The dark green leaves of the vine-laden, twisted old ash tree are twinkling in the light after the sudden rainstorm. Beyond it, down by the creek, the ancient willow stump is fat and full with graceful, slender branches rising directly out of the gnarled core. July at Rolling Ridge has meant an outpouring of untamed green life, driven by capricious skies: nourishing downpours giving way to brilliant sun, and back again. It’s a changeable season, unpredictable; and that seems of a piece with affairs on all levels of our world right now. Whereas the rockiness of the wider, political world foments distress and anxiety, the topsy-turvy tumble of rain and light in our small nook of the universe gives rise to exuberant foliage and riotous green life. The Earth holds it all, the trouble and the joy, but it is hard to find footing.
Our community gathered last night for supper and a conversation aimed at humor. It seemed like the right time for it. We abandoned the customary moment of silence and opened with a few minutes of forced laughter, which caught on like wildfire. Most of us had brought jokes and cartoons and links to our favorite funny videos. What we discovered was that we differ in what makes us laugh just as much as in everything else. The landscape of humor has some treacherous crannies and bogs. But grace can and does befall us. It is good, in the midst of uncertain times, to cultivate generosity and wholeheartedly hold onto one another in laughter as in all else. There are many ways to weather turbulent seas.
The on-again-off-again precipitation of recent days seems not to bother the creatures or the birds around here. If anything, they appear to revel in the sudden wet interludes and bursts of sun. The blue birds flit unconcerned through the rain from branch to shed, while in the glistening, soaked aftermath of a cloudburst, I caught the stunning flash of a scarlet tanager alighting in the willow and the graceful lines of the wood thrush searching for grubs in the damp grasses. Each attends to the task at hand in all kinds of weather, intent on being, and secure.
Rilke wrote, in the first lines of his poem, “Gravity’s Law”:
How surely gravity’s law,
strong as an ocean current,
takes hold of the smallest thing
and pulls it toward the heart of the world.
each stone, blossom, child—
is held in place.
While the radio and TV shout breaking news and our phones buzz and tweet, a whole other conversation is going on. It is the one about belonging, about finding a tether, a foothold, in the heart of the world.
When it pours, as it did erratically all afternoon, the rain drums on the roof and rafters of our small, attic-less house, calling to mind these words from Thomas Merton in Raids on the Unspeakable:
The rain surrounded the cabin…with a whole world of meaning… Think of it: all that speech pouring down, selling nothing, judging nobody, drenching the thick mulch of dead leaves, soaking the trees, filling the gullies and crannies of the wood with water…Nobody started it, nobody is going to stop it. It will talk as long as it wants, the rain. As long as it talks I am going to listen.
Michael Meade, that scholar and keeper of the old stories says, “In mythic terms, the earth is a place of mystery and wonder where life always hangs by a thread and all the events of history are loosely stitched upon the endless loom of eternity. Secretly, we are each tied to the divine.” Yes, and tied to place, to one another, to the vast communion of beings, and as Mary Oliver notes, to our place in “the family of things.” It seems to me that in an erratic and storm-tossed season, and an unraveling, disorienting world, the vital task is to listen, not to the infernal noise, but to one another’s laughter and to the rain: the deep tones of connection and community, all that speech pouring down.