Thursday, September 11, 2008

gentle filling

gentle filling
Originally uploaded by rod lewis
It is impossible this morning merely to sit at the kitchen table and watch the gentle play of low morning light spotlighting the ballet of breeze and green in the backyard. In fact, the play of light is not readily apparent. It is diffuse through thick, stationary rain clouds. One has actually to sit still in the midst of the morning for quite some time to acquaint his skin with the temperature and humidity even to perceive the ever-so-gentle stir of the air. He must become acclimated to the stillness to detect the stir.
The rain is falling steadily, but so gently that it can’t be seen by looking through the air at the deep, damp green canopy and walls of the yard. It can be heard though, and of course felt. Heard to play its under melody, not a counterpoint exactly, but more like the chant tune above which the birds and tree frogs have added their vernacular text in florid lines to create this morning motet of supported stillness. The stir of atmosphere against my skin is so slight that it doesn’t move the leaves – they only jitter at the gentle drops dropping from the higher leaves.

I think it is profound that midst a barrage of beauty, it is easy to completely miss it, or at least miss most of it. Storms are quite common here this time of year. One moment, the sky is blue and suddenly, over the trees roll dark, strangely lit greys that roar and shoot bolts of bright white among themselves and toward the earth. They don’t open valves, but rather burst a main and pummel trees, break branches, and wash lawns and gardens into the streets to overflow the storm gutters and leave patterned lines of debris scattered on pavement.
Just as suddenly, this outburst of emotion seems to abate, and for a moment the sky seems to go about the process of pulling itself together, sobbing and wiping away the final tears. It’s as if the blue has come to calm the grey and wraps its arms around the angered clouds and presently around us all.
It is difficult to see the beauty in the purging of meteorological emotion. Perhaps it is as difficult as it is to see the beauty in the deep blue of joyful skies. It all comes so fast and furious that one can’t perceive it. It is almost as if the elements must be separated and experienced one at a time in order to appreciate truly their beauty and power.
This summer, while riding across utterly flat, vast Colorado wilderness, I saw a storm an hour ahead of me. During that hour, I rode in still, dry desert air while watching black clouds hang wispy sheets of smoky mist against the ground. I watched bright, undefined flashes illuminate the blackness from the inside, I saw sharply defined, jagged bolts of brilliant neon white reach across the sky, flashing. I saw thick, heavy electric spears flung to the ground as if they would stab the earth and stand there lighted, smoking, and consuming the desert sage and blackening the loose, rocky soil.
As I approached the blackness, the air cooled by 20 degrees, and the wind pushed my bike sideways. Huge drops of water pelted my faceshield and pricked my arms and legs. The bolts were landed in the soil so close to me that I imagined I could feel their heat. I saw space behind the bolts and experienced the storm in three dimensions rather than against a two-dimensional backdrop of dark, cloudy sky. Unfathomable power unleashed at once in a display of overwhelmingly terrible beauty.
I rode another hour in the midst of this awesome anger before reaching the breaks of dusky blue on the other side at the edge of the Rocky Mountains. I stopped my bike to breathe and realized that the storm hadn’t stopped, or moved on, I’d simply come through it and out of it and left it there, still kicking and screaming and pouring out its wrath on the desert landscape. Days passed before that storm ceased to be a part of my current experience, and became instead a powerful memory of fear, power, respect and submission.

Rarer though, are these slow, long lasting drizzles. A couple weeks after the Colorado storm, I rode nearly 700 miles northward along the Pacific ocean in a three-day, chilly, foggy drizzle. A slow ride in slow rain allowed the beauty to be slowly absorbed through my layers and trapped inside where my capacity for beauty was stretched.
Such is the rain of this rare morning. Evening’s gentle thunder and occasional flashings subsided, but without the blue to come from behind and hug away the anger, the sky remained melancholy through the night. I woke at intervals to hear the gentle, constant patter of rain in the leaves outside the window, and at first light, I was past being satisfied with only sound. I made my way to the covered front porch and stepped out into the drizzle, just long enough to prime my skin to feel the practically imperceptible stir of rain-breath, and perched myself in a rocking chair to watch, feel, listen and absorb.

These are the gentle, washing mercies, new this morning. They are slow, constant, and faithful - gentle, so as to be absorbed. The whelming storm is awesome, powerful, terrible, and cleansing, washing away accumulation and dispersing it in the runoff. But this welcome morning is experienced, absorbed and cherished.

I suppose it is difficult for me to accept that mercies come in many -often contradictory -forms. But of course, sometimes one needs to be washed, and sometimes he needs to be filled.