Friday, January 4, 2013

january's garden


"Such a liar!" laughs my friend, her white breath rising in the cold air.  I had begun to tell her why yoga is not as boring for me.  She thinks I am making this up for her amusement now -- what comes into my mind during the compulsory quiet -- the mountain that turns into a fierce mother, running just ahead down a hillside under heavy trees, leaping up waterfalls, wrestling a sudden bear and the feel of strength burning in my muscles, the bear's slashing claws and the yellow flowers growing up through the eyebones of my abandoned skull.  The mountain's fierce laughter.  My friend laughs, "You did not." 

"It's always something interesting. And it wasn't frightening.  Almost comforting.  And off on the horizon crepuscular rays and Jacob's ladder of angels moving up and down."

We are walking together in the cold morning air.

"You are so pulling my leg," she says, my friend of many years, many miles.

"10 thousand flowers dare to blossom in the snow."

"Not everyone thinks in pictures.  I don't," says Eldest when later I insist that everyone does, really, that they're just too embarrassed of the pictures that they really think in, that they translate them and bowdlerize, clean them up and make them speak sense.

"No," my daughter says, "I think in structures and words.  Not pictures, not stories."

"You and your symbols!" another friend lovingly, laughingly dismisses me when we are carolling in the dark with our families holding candles and I rejoice too audibly at the weave we make, each blown-out candle coming back for renewed light from a parent or a friend or a little brother, each new flame relighting another blown out a few minutes later.   I want to laugh with happiness, "Here it is!  This is the way we live!  Lighting and getting lights from each other's candles.  And trying not to fall into the muddy pit!"  As another friend stands at the edge of a puddle, directing us away just in time, gesturing in slow circles with her own lit candle.

"You and your symbols," my friend shakes her head.  As if I'm talking something foreign.

I am older now than I was last week.  Now at yoga:  Circling birds, somewhere far north over icy water:  a reflection in the window glass of the old woman I would like to be, looking out at the winter evening, over the snow, somewhere far far to the north.  She sees where the birds circle, a glimmering of wings over a brightening spot in the sea.  A long gray braid down her back and her hands a farmer's hands, never resting, carrying a basket, folding and putting away. Sterility, I struggle to name this picture, but the quiet-mind hushes me with more pictures:  whales circling beneath the circling of the birds.   A whale with her calf beside her in the cold blue water.  And in the black earth, seeds swelling.  Their pale rootlets and embryonic leaves straining at the thin brown jacket that holds them in.

These pictures keep thinking through me all week, and then at the Chinese garden on Everett Street in Portland:  bitterly cold, gusts of wind.

But there is sun against one garden wall and against that wall yellow blossoms, pouring out their sunny sweetness.  Fragrant quince, said the guide, and on the other side winter jasmine.  I thought winter had just started and already spring is breathing down its back.


From the eaves of one pavilion, we watch other Portlanders of all ages, wrapped up against the cold, in the courtyard above the frozen pond, moving through tai chi like trees moved by the same wind, like tall grasses.  Afterward their teacher talked to us about balance and breath, keeping the body's health and defending the village, slow movement and fast.  And then he showed us, going deep inside himself and moving like a dance, or a tree, a slow unstoppable battle against evil.

He moved against a background of frozen pond where the goldfish circled slowly in the center, in the deepest part where there was still some flow.  He moved against a background of willow weeping yellow-orange branches and a persimmon tree heavy with warm orbs of fruit on its leafless branches and even beyond the garden wall, city skyscrapers in the same warm tones, angular though and inorganic.  This lush and living spot in the coldness of January in the middle of a city grid.

"One tree is brave to announce spring to the world."
In the next garden: "His spring is coming very soon," the guide said, pointing out the swelling buds on another tree.  She tells us all this garden was patterned on one originally built in Suzhou for a mandarin who survived the backstabbing of the capitol to retire to this paradise of water, stone and leaves.  Plum Blossoms on Cracked Ice, the guide named the stonework of the pavement outside the Scholar's Pavilion.  Because the plum is the earliest tree to blossom, she said, it often blossoms in the snow.  Inside, where it was cold but not windy, she reads us the poems drawn on the pillars:
Ten-thousand                                   One
flowers                                              tree
dare                                                   is brave
to blossom                                        to announce
in                                                        spring
the snow.                                          to the world.

The boys practiced drawing "Strength," drawing "Dragon," drawing "Water." 



January's light streams in, onto and from their hands and faces like the flow of knowledge.  Eldest points this out to me, afterward, looking over the pictures I have taken. I don't need to tell her I agree.

"Look!" said the guide, "Even the word for snow looks like a snowflake."


Or maybe I'm just thinking in pictures.



1 comment:

Melody said...

Lovely. Thank you for this. On this winter day. .."already spring is breathing down its back."

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