Harmony of Song and Dance at Pinewoods, 2012
All week I have seen insects landing. I was lying on my stomach on a small dock by the pond, reading (Infinite Jest, the eternal project) when two damselflies lit on me, one on my hand and one on my book. They stayed there, until I turned the page. At lunch one day I found a beautiful and bold moth on the table, who happily climbed onto my finger when I offered it and stayed with me for a while. My new insect friend. I’ve been thinking about bugs with their beautiful bodies and short lives, their wings that grant them both freedom and fragility. Dragonflies skimming the surface of the water. Enormous luna moths decorating cabins of North Carolina. The millepedes of South Africa.
When I tell people about Pinewoods and why I love it, I only tell them part of the story: I tell them what makes Pinewoods a happy place. I tell them about the ponds and trees, the music, the singing and dancing. I’m rarely able to articulate what makes Pinewoods a more contemplative place for me, to explain that I’ve had weeks at Pinewoods that felt sad but also important. My friend Mia says her mind keeps wandering. That someone will walk up to her while she’s lost in thought, a face materializing in front of her, and ask if she’s OK because she looks sad or angry. And then she’ll snap out of it, suddenly back in the present. It’s easy, here, to think about everything and anything. Something about being in the woods, disconnected (at least partially) from the outside world, and the days are so much longer. When I’m at Pinewoods I cycle through many feelings a day with hardly any external cause for them at all.
Not that I’m at a loss for external emotional motivators. I have departed Oberlin, my home of seven years. I am saying good-bye to friends I have seen nearly every day for the past year. I wrote and delivered a letter to a friend with whom I have been hopelessly in love for a year. I will not be seeing her for some time. Is this too much to write publicly? I’ve tended, in recent years, to keep my personal stories close to the breast, but now I’m trying to be honest; this is my genuine experience.
I’m nearly a quarter of a century old now. That phrasing makes me feel old, though I know I’m not. Still. Time passes more quickly than I expect. All week I’ve been getting reminders of this. I told someone I had been dancing for seven years and was startled when they replied, “Oh, so a long time.” It still feels so recently that Rosemary taught me to swing in Tappan Square and brought me to my first Oberlin contra. Someone asked when I first came to Pinewoods and I remembered it was five years ago, visiting my friend Mog. Five years,—one fifth of my life to date. Things that still feel new to me are somehow part of me now.
Here’s a moment that I want to save:
I canoe Amanda through the narrow winding channel—the same channel that Julia first showed me two years earlier—that exits the pond nearest to camp and opens out into a smaller, quieter, emptier pond. There’s an island in the middle that we paddle over to. Dragonflies abound. “We’re not as pretty as the dragonflies,” I tell her, in response to a comment I can’t remember. She has less than an hour before she has to leave, but we rest here a little too long, aware of the time passing and yet imagining that we are somehow outside of it.
And then I paddle like hell to get us back to shore.
I’ve left home for the second time in my life. I’m not quite ready to settle down yet in a new one. It sounds trite to put it in words, but I feel like I’m emerging from a cocoon and I’m flying away.
From “Dragonflies Mating”—one of my favorite Robert Hass poems:
This morning in the early sun,
steam rising from the pond the color of smoky topaz,
a pair of delicate, copper-red, needle-fine insects
are mating in the unopened crown of a Shasta daisy
just outside your door. The green flowerheads look like wombs
or the upright, supplicant bulbs of a vegetal pre-erection.
The insect lovers seem to be transferring the cosmos into each other
by attaching at the tail, holding utterly still, and quivering intently.
I think (on what evidence?) that they are different from us.
That they mate and are done with mating.
They don’t carry all this half-mated longing up out of childhood
and then go looking for it everywhere.
And so, I think, they can’t wound each other the way we do.
They don’t go through life dizzy or groggy with their hunger,
kill with it, smear it on everything, though it is perhaps also true
that nothing happens to them quite like what happens to us
when the blue-backed swallow dips swiftly toward the green pond
and the pond’s green-and-blue reflected swallow marries it a moment
in the reflected sky and the heart goes out to the end of the rope
it has been throwing into abyss after abyss, and a singing shimmers
from every color the morning has risen into.
My insect instructors have stilled, they are probably stuck together
in some bliss and minute pulse of after-longing
evolution worked out to suck the last juice of the world
into the receiver body. They can’t separate probably
until it is done.
Josh Ritter, Leaving:
Every time I turn around, something else has floated away.
There ain’t a single thing I’ve found with wings that decided to stay.
The railroad track is miles away,
And the day is loud with voices speaking,
Yet there isn’t a train goes by all day
But I hear its whistle shrieking.
All night there isn’t a train goes by,
Though the night is still for sleep and dreaming,
But I see its cinders red on the sky,
And hear its engine steaming.
My heart is warm with the friends I make,
And better friends I’ll not be knowing;
Yet there isn’t a train I wouldn’t take,
No matter where it’s going.
— Edna St. Vincent Millay