Kathleen Dean Moore’s book, Wild Comfort, is a gorgeous and rich collection of essays. Moore’s writing is lyrical and dense, not the kind of prose you can gobble up in one sitting. I found myself carrying this book with me wherever I went all week, comforted by its presence in my bag, anticipating having ten minutes (more if I could get them) to read a passage. Her pieces are reflections of what we give and take from the natural world; how we grieve and what that means; the ways our culture invites us to fall away from nature in the name of progress and how, still, we find we need the solace of wilderness. To be a naturalist, Moore suggests, is to have a kind of split personality – part grim reality, the byproduct of seeing environment through a scientist’s lens; part heady joy of one whose senses are on full alert.
For my part, I find grim reality is a space I occupy too often. I forget, in my obsession with humanity’s dark underbelly, evident especially in this election season, that there’s so much to be grateful for – the kids I work with in the school garden who’ll try any vegetable I ask them to because they love the space they’ve helped to cultivate, the bumper crop of Jonagold apples bursting from my tiny, espaliered trees. The color amber. How my dog’s feet smell like Fritos.
I could choose to find joy more than I do, focusing less on how the world seems determined to forget history, or how any shopping excursion is proof we really are zombies and don’t know it yet, or how a generator and a crossbow are probably the best tools in preparation for the end-of-days. I could choose to be the bird of Emily Dickinson’s poem, the one singing her heart out through the storm: “Hope is the thing with feathers/That perches in the soul…” I could be the bird and live a more intentional life with less cynicism. I could be that bird…
In her book, Moore frets about not living an intentional enough life. As an exercise in gratitude, she decided to establish a “happy basket” on her desk, into which she put pieces of paper with notes recording times she felt really happy. Her plan was to document things that brought her joy for a year, and then go through and evaluate the data. Ultimately, she didn’t make it for the year, which I love. One crummy day eight months or so into the project, she tipped out the basket to see what those scraps could tell her – chiefly, that none of the ways the world said she should be happy actually made her happy. Not stuff or success. Ideas, solitude, her kids, and moving in the outdoors delivered joy and grounded her.
Yesterday I was talking to a dear friend on the phone, lamenting the way I am built to be dissatisfied, suggesting I, too, should start a happy basket. She was quiet for a minute, and then said to me, “But that’s what your blog is. You don’t need a basket for your desk.”
Which I guess is true as I look back over my posts.
While we were on the phone, I stood at the window and watched the caramelized colors of autumn in my backyard, the quilt of leaves I would have to rake again before the rain came. There’s one holdout of summer’s gaudy blaze left in the yard, a fuchsia in full bloom. Fuchsia have a reputation for being difficult to grow, temperamental without diligent fertilizing, and prone to dying easily if you don’t baby them. I have utterly neglected this plant, which lives in a planter box on my deck. While everything else around it is closing up shop for winter, this fuchsia is hardy, saucy, showing off with her pendulous bloom, her firecracker bloomers.
I was about to ring off, promising to post a missive worthy of a happy basket if I could dip into the well and find something, when a female Anna’s Hummingbird arrived to my fuchsia, sucking down nectar as fast as she could. Not all of them migrate from our part of the state, I guess, and maybe this one intended to meet some friends in California or Mexico later.
But she stayed for a while, immersed in feeding on each one of those sweet fuchsia globes long enough to allow me a good look at her red-flecked head and peacock-colored wings. Although my friend is thousands of miles away, we saw it together. A gift to witness and to share, a thing I would’ve written on a scrap of paper and put in a basket.