The other day when it was warm and calm, I kayaked out to an island on Derwentwater, and we sat in sunshine on the warm rock of St Herbert’s shore under a mass of quaking aspens. My friend explained that aspens are not really individual trees but that they spread by suckers under the ground and all the trees in a stand are probably clones or even parts of the one same organism. I gazed at the mesmerising dance of their million leaves choreographed by the breeze; surely there must be some sensation in their connected experience, even though the nature of such a thing must abide in a place outside a neurone infested brain.
I have heard some psychologists assert humans are the only species that has enough insight and imagination to understand mortality yet I cannot see anything which tells me this is true. Just that we humans seem less comfortable with the passage of our time compared with many other creatures. And our habit of otherising nature and wildlife is perhaps a protection against our fear that we too are really alive, and that life is a cycle in which individuals are temporary.
Yesterday’s run was not a use of my body but an expression of myself. Today is not a day to rest my tired legs; they are not my legs they are me. Today is a day to enjoy my tiredness, and wallow in my existence - like a hippo in the mud.
I come back again and again to Mary Oliver’s The Summer Day, in which she asked me, yes me personally, what it is I plan to do with this one “wild and precious life”. A couple of weeks after she died in January 2019, I supplied her with my answer:
For Mary Oliver, born 10th September 1935 and died 17th January 2019.
You were speaking to me weren’t you
Asking what it is I plan to do
with this one wild and precious life.
It’s time you had an answer.
After all your diligent patience.
After all the times you did not fail
to tell me how to fly.
This is what I plan to do,
to take another breath
and speak of unkept secrets
hidden in plain sight,
to swear an oath to the pink
blushes of fading winter light.
I plan to speak the wildness
to give it form and words
I plan to drink the raindrops
to hear the unheard.
I plan to stare on mountaintops
climb high and face the sun,
to burst with life, to scream out loud
to run and run and run.
I plan to know and tell it all
the wildest of the wild
and bear the gorgeous visions
then go out with the tide.
The soft lipped kiss of death’s farewell
a silence full and rich.
You knew it always was like this
to wildness we’re enthralled.
To live in any other way
would be no life at all.