Yesterday evening, after dinner, after chores, after the heaviest of the rain had passed and what lingered felt soft and inviting, I walked into the woods. I love being in the woods when it’s raining, the way the wetness amplifies color and smell and the sound of the mountain stream that borders this land. Indeed, that’s what drew me in the first place; I wanted to see the rain-swollen stream, kick off my shoes and wade into it, feel the push of the water against me. Maybe even push back a little, because sometimes it’s nice to have something to push back against.
I have been stymied lately by a case of tendonitis in my right elbow; it was brought on by last summer’s frenzy of hammering, then retreated to a tolerable level for the winter, only to return with a vengeance this spring in the aftermath of heavy chainsaw work, then further exacerbated by haying. I applied my favorite remedy – denial – until my arm was essentially unusable for the pain, at which point I began experimenting with my least favorite therapy: Rest (coupled with ice, heat, massage, and still, in ever smaller doses, denial). It is recovering, but in the achingly slow manner of injuries long ignored, a lingering reminder of my pig-headedness.
Physical work is important to me for all sorts of reasons – it feels good, it gets things done, it clears my mind (and yet it’s also when most of my ideas come, how strange) – and it is difficult for me to stop dwelling on all the things I wish to be doing, but for the time being cannot: Building fence for the cows, cutting and splitting firewood, siding the house, and so on. I am glad for my nascent running habit, though leery too of the toll running can take on the body, and thus always holding something in reserve, rarely running as far as I’d like, and generally not on consecutive days. Still. It’s good.
I think often about how deeply we crave certainty and security, both individually and collectively, and how, to a certain extent, we are fools for doing so. Or at the very least, how we are fooling ourselves to think we can achieve these things in any permanent way. Impermanence is one of the few certainties of life, right up there with death and taxes, and it is where many of our most meaningful experiences reside. And yet still we resist, clinging to the idea that our well-being depends on things being and remaining a particular way. It is easy to see this playing out on the national stage right now; indeed, it is part-and-parcel of the modern political process, the ceaseless promises of safety and prosperity, and I cannot not understand why we continue to believe these promises. Simple desperation, I guess, some deep-seated human desire to move away from the discomfort of impermanence and its inevitable uncertainty.
I think it’s more difficult to stand in objective witness of how this process occurs on a personal level (and isn’t this always the case?); I think it’s more difficult to accept that our lives will always be in a certain degree of flux, that things will come together and fall apart, and then come together again, and then, inevitably, fall apart again, and that this will happen over and over again until the day we die. This is just the nature of things. It cannot be avoided. Better to make peace with it. Easier said than done, I know.
I came out of the woods after a half-hour or so, my shirt folded into a pouch, the pouch full of chanterelles. I never made it to the stream; the mushrooms proved too tempting a distraction, and I ended up wandering the woods until dark had nearly settled, the air still full of humidity but rinsed of the day’s heavy heat (you see, it’s actually not the humidity; it’s the heat, and don’t let anyone ever tell you different!).
I went inside, set the mushrooms on the counter for breakfast, dissolved Epsom salts in hot water to soak my tender elbow, suddenly pleased to realize it wasn’t as painful as when I’d soaked it the evening before. It’s getting better. Soon, it’s going to be just fine.