On a still day — rain threatening — a tall stem moves in the garden. A goldfinch has landed just below the flower head and is eating the seeds while the stem sways like a pendulum. The rain begins, and above its steady rhythm there is a clatter and a pop on the woodshed roof as a hickory-nut falls. Soon, the clouds tear apart and the sun spills through. Maple leaves are coming down in ones and twos, and the ones and twos are beginning to add up in drifts along the pasture edges.
Most of the time, nature is simply there — when I do chores, when I walk down to the mailbox, when I look up from writing. I don’t expect solace from it, nor do I theologize it with my own desires. It simply persists in sublime indifference. And yet from time to time I find myself surprised by it, and I know that what I am really noticing is the volatility of the human world.
I have been struck before by the gap between the new news of my city life and the old news of nature. I have that feeling now. Nothing in the natural world upbraids me. It offers no commentary. It has nothing to say about financial meltdowns and dirty politics or, for that matter, personal grief. But the other lives on this farm do remind me of how captive I have become, like all of us, to the tensions of this incredible human season.That is the trick in nature. There is no escaping to it. It throws you back upon yourself again and again. The geese shriek when they see me coming and then drop into their bassoon tones. The chipmunks freeze on the stone wall, waiting to see what direction I will go. Remedy makes the sound that is usually called nickering but is really a slow, deep equine purring. I am carrying the grain bucket, which is why I also am lost in my thoughts. And when I slip out of them, walking beside the horses up the hill to their grain buckets, I can feel for a moment how insubstantial those thoughts really are, before they engulf me again.