This morning, out early to let out the dog who seemed to have urgent need, I encountered a robin in full featherage sitting motionless beneath the bird bath. The bird didn’t so much as flinch as River and I walked past. After I put the dog back in, I kept walking out to the edge of the deck to check on the puffed red body below, holding the idea of its life in my mind, willing it to be well. It moved twice around the base of the bath, apparently trying to leverage a more secure hiding place, until finally, it laid its head down and rolled onto its side. The robin was dead.
I know animals die in the natural world but seeing the bird first thing on what otherwise promised to be a glorious late summer day, put me in a dark mood, a circumstance I admittedly didn’t help by checking the news. Before I knew it I’d gone down the rabbit hole of horrible headlines. Foremost in my sight was Hurricane Florence swamping the Carolinas, with, according to The Atlantic, “18 trillion gallons of water, enough to fill Chesapeake Bay,” followed by Typhoon Mangkhut. It’s as inconceivable as it is alarming that we’re living in the new normal of monster storms, catastrophic flooding, and a summer where much of the West was on fire—all products of human-caused climate change. Ladies and Gentlemen, the future we have been warned about has arrived.
My mind circles back to the robin. An omen? I think. I try to write my way out of my dour mood, but when that fails, I grab the leash and my camera and take River up the road. It’s aspen season in Colorado and the hills are on fire with gold light, as one stand after another ignites up and down the mountain.
But, for my mission this morning I have more than aspens in mind: I want light.
We’ve entered those precious few weeks of late summer and early fall when the world fills with what my friend Luis Urrea calls “Irish light.” It’s the time of year when the sun dips in the sky, angling at a perfect pitch so that everywhere you look landscape glows. Meadows of dried summer grass blooms a luminous golden and pale
brown, and even the waning green of plants give off their own lime light. It’s not the fresh tart green of spring, which makes me want to cartwheel across a thawing meadow, but the green of serenity, the green of a final farewell, the last hurrah.
I walk River up our road until it opens up and the sky presents us with a blue that never fails to put a smile on my face. More light. The walk does my mind good. I think of nothing but the sound of gravel beneath my feet, the sun warming my bare arms, the light that fills the world. Meditation teachers admonish us to discover an eternity in a moment. And for a moment I do. The mountain is achingly beautiful, lit like a 1950s Hollywood starlet, so that each needle, each leaf radiates as if possessed with its own small sun. Chasing light, I let the it displace deeper worries about a world in grave peril.
And that’s the thing, isn’t it? The natural world offers so much solace, so much beauty. While I worry about predictions and prognostications, that darker nightmares that are to come, I will always reach for beauty, always choose light. To love the thing even as it wanes is an act of heart. For me there is nothing else.