Nature gloriously lifts our mundane plans from our backs and deposits them elsewhere.
Sometimes we need it to. We learn an important lesson: underneath our humdrum world proof abounds that life is extraordinary.
It’s downright funny how I can book my weeks solid with countless everyday tasks. A month or two ago, I was geared up to accomplish them all. I had the whole week planned from morning to evening daily, catching up on necessary life-stuff, once and for all…until I woke up one morning (perhaps it was Monday morning: humdrumery’s sacred day) and the sky decided winter had had enough time to show up in Dallas/Fort Worth and it hadn’t, so it was time for spring. The blue ashen clouds opened up and descended in blinding sheets. I could not go anywhere.
After I recovered from the mild irritation that results from moot schedules, I began to roam our apartment some. I shut off the lights and raised the window blinds so I could see Nature in all of her watering glory. I chuckled at my tubby cat trying to squeeze his substantial heft under the couch to escape the thunder. I turned on YouTube and listened to Bach’s concertos and fugues. I read some really great short stories. One of them blew me away: Rick Bass’s well-known “Hermit Story.”
In the piece, a woman tells a story of delivering trained dogs to a man who lives in the wild. While returning from an exercise, the whole team loses track of where they are during a snowstorm. The man falls beneath an icy lake, the woman hurries to save him, but then realizes that it is dry underneath. Instead of continuing on land, though, the whole group (dogs and all) decides to travel under the ice on the dry lake bed beneath it. The whole scene is nothing short of magical. Through Bass’s prose, the reader can experience how eerily beautiful the journey was, picturing the shimmer of the stars through the ice and the sounds of the birds trapped underneath with them. The lesson is there: beneath our world, nature still has magic up her sleeve to floor us, astound us.
By most accounts, I wasted the day, lounging, reading, listening to music, begrudgingly giving the rain victory over me. But I had not felt so rejuvenated in a long time, you know—-alive. It’s also funny how running around doing everything can actually make you feel less alive than taking the time to pause and (to most accounts) do nothing.
It seemed I had earned the right to spend at least one day doing what I liked to do most, what really fulfilled me, made me happy. Unfortunately, those of us who live in North Texas are aware that Spring storms never really just pass through. It stormed almost nonstop most of the week. The first day, I was okay with letting a few things slide. Two days later, my secular mind was getting antsy at all of the time I was “wasting” just because the rain prevented me from doing anything else. Yet, one can get used to all things over time.
I found myself so seduced by the world of music and storytelling that the necessary tasks of life began to irrationally anger me. During a couple of those days, I was obligated to go to work and I hated that—-a bit more than usual. I didn’t understand why life could not be like what I read and I listened to. It was not so much that life had to be unreal or fantastical, but that it had to have meaning, structure, symmetry, and beauty. It had to have that trail of mystery underlying the normal aspect of it, like that dry lake bed underneath the unassuming ice in Bass’s story. It didn’t.
The resulting restlessness and discontentment was nearly too much to bear. I had forgotten a certain truth about myself. Sometimes, when I am not careful, my deep passion for poetry and music awakens in me a desire for an elusive something more than my present circumstances can provide. Yes, as I’ve hinted before, I become so thoroughly spoiled by the beauty of art that I am useless in real life, grumbling with dissatisfaction. To be honest, though, such a stance towards life is erring to the other extreme.
Instead, Bass’s story reminds us to appreciate rare moments in nature when they appear. Then, when we are required to perform our necessary duties in life, we can stretch ourselves to look underneath the obvious and apprehend the beauty, the symmetry, the magic that lies beyond our everyday experiences.
How do you reconcile your artistic self with the demands of secular society?