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A singe grosbeak inspects our feeder, and as I look out through the living room picture window at the bird plumped against the cold, there’s a reflection in the glass of flames from the woodstove inside.  In its orange vigor, my fire faces west, Druidically inappropriate, but very welcome on this grade A gray day.

In the northern U.S. that’s an image of this time of year: reflections, of heat inside, of life still proceeding outdoors and in, of the time of year itself.

The interval between Thanksgiving and the December holidays can be a delicious space, a “meanwhile” or middle-time for re-tooling and starting to close up shop on the current year.  To feel that it’s often too busy, or merely filled with worsening weather forecasts, as though that is all it has to offer, is to miss something profoundly meditative about these days.  What’s the opposite of miss?  Attend, intercept, catch, be there.  Whatever it is, that’s what I want to do.

There is as well in November and early December a late-autumnal melancholy, it’s true.  The peak of Thanksgiving has passed, and some may see the next months as a pretty solid trudge through the valleys (in our boots, scarves and gloves, and hauling snow-shovels) until the climb to the next holiday.

So when I can take a look from this end of the year at a season at the other side of summer, I do. Off to that start of spring transience which mirrors something in us now as well. I followed a link from an article in today’s NY Times and there on the page was the sudden pure pleasure of “Sakura Park,” a poem by the late Rachel Wetzsteon (pronounced “wet-stone”). Take a visit to late spring, six months ago, or six months to come. The cherry trees (the sakura of the title) are in bloom …

Sakura Park

The park admits the wind,
the petals lift and scatter
like versions of myself I was on the verge
of becoming; and ten years on
and ten blocks down I still can’t tell
whether this dispersal resembles
a fist unclenching or waving goodbye.
But the petals scatter faster,
seeking the rose, the cigarette vendor,
and at least I’ve got by pumping heart
some rules of conduct: refuse to choose
between turning pages and turning heads
though the stubborn dine alone. Get over
“getting over”: dark clouds don’t fade
but drift with ever deeper colors.
Give up on rooted happiness
(the stolid trees on fire!) and sweet reprieve
(a poor park but my own) will follow.
There is still a chance the empty gazebo
will draw crowds from the greater world.
And meanwhile, meanwhile’s far from nothing:
the humming moment, the rustle of cherry trees.

Yes, that’s a poet for you — insisting on a connection between cherry petals and the growth of self, when all the cherry need do is be a self beautifully ready to attract bees, produce fruit and fulfill its cherry-tree-ness.

And yes, there’s a whiff of early middle-aged cynicism creeping in here (Wetzsteon died at 42), the dry rot that afflicts so many who tell themselves to be content with meanwhiles.  “Give up on rooted happiness!” she urges.  There is still green chance and raw luck and sweet grace in the world, but until they salvage something greater than what’s at hand, be content with meanwhiles, the poet advises, the “far from nothing” moments that hum with possibility even now.  So it’s back to trees, where maybe we should have remained.

Too often we are literally “self-important.”  We worry about the self like a barefoot child abandoned in a parking lot, or an opened can of tuna that will spoil unless we eat or cook or refrigerate it.  The cherry tree sends out blossoms unworried about November.  Not because November won’t come, but because it’s not November when it’s April.  And when November comes, the tree will be a cherry in November, awaiting the next humming moment.

And yes, if I meditate among the swaying branches and crackling leaves this time of year (trying to fluff myself against the cold like an outsized bird, so I can sit or kneel a few minutes without shivering and breaking my focus), the “stolid tree on fire” matters more than it did before, and my own concerns matter less.  Restoration that we seek, visit all who long for it.  Find it in the silent witnesses of trees.  We who listen for “a voice that will save us” forget what burns in front of us, the fire in the stove in the living room, this day passing with us into “later” and darkness and tomorrow, the trees wintering, summering and wintering again, the air itself, with its metallic crispness on the tongue and in the nose, the fire that burns in all things.

/|\ /|\ /|\

The 50,000-word deadline this Wednesday 11/30 at midnight looms before us “wrimos,” and I’m finally within range.   Woo-hah!  The Nanowrimo site obligingly lets participants grab icons of progress — anything to keep us writing.  Much of what I’m drafting now is detail, filling in missing scenes, background, snatches of dialog with disembodied characters, pieces of Harhanu physiology and psychology — and I suppose, not surprisingly, a brand-new and potentially primary character — because of course what I expressly did not need at this point is a strong new presence telling me “when you are done, you are not done, for I have more” — to paraphrase Omar Khayyam in his Rubaiyat.  He already has a name (Tehengin) which he obligingly repeated to me till I got it right.  But, probably, I do need him — in some way which I’m sure he’ll inform me about.  In detail.

So anyway, here I dance at 44212 words, taking a break to blog, before I return to dance some more.  Wish me well in this home stretch.

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