I felt the breeze…
I stumbled on a tree root when…
Finally, we reached the pond…
Concentrate. Start over.
When I was a teacher I was often given the dubious privilege of “lunch duty”. A room, nearly the size of a gym, filled with 5th & 6th graders…or 9th & 10th graders and a hand full of teachers produced a noise level that made it impossible to carry on a conversation or to even think about the hour before you. Sometimes on days when I didn’t have duty, I would retreat to the faculty lunch room. Even there, teachers talked about the students, the administration or their Valium prescription. Still, no time to think.
As a last resort, I would take my tray to my empty homeroom and eat alone. It occurred to me that I would appear antisocial…but at least I could think.
Once, perhaps a decade or so ago, I found a guidebook to monasteries, close to our home in Manhattan, that opened their doors to travelers…like a B & B with stained glass. Mariam and I found one, run by the Episcopal church, on the western side of the Hudson River. It was a large estate-like building that sat high above the river in the Hudson Highlands. It happened that we booked our room on a “quiet” weekend.
No talking allowed.
During the meals, all I could hear was the clinking of forks and spoons on the china plates. A whisper here and there…but otherwise, silence.
I could think.
On October 7, Mariam and I with our friends took a walk on the Silver Lake Bog trail. The sky was azure. The foliage was at a peak. Brilliant reds, yellows, copper and scarlet leaves mixed with the green conifers.
[Even the conifers lose their leaves (needles) in the autumn]
I hung back and walked alone. I stopped to listen. The gently falling leaves sounded like a light rain. I looked around me and realized that I had walked into a grand feast, a forested restaurant, a silent meal.
And, I could think.
A gentle sense of melancholy overcame me…it’s that time of year that evokes death and endings and dormant life.
[This once-living tree is now being consumed by dozens of organisms]
Nearly everything I looked at was in the process of dying…or already dead. What was alive was consuming what was dead. This was considered to be a fairly dry summer, but you would never have guessed that from that bog or our front yard. I have seen more fungi this October that I can recall. My copy of Peterson’s Field Guide to Mushrooms was used more than the previous decade. It is now well dog-eared.
It was like watching “The Walking Dead” with the roles reversed. Of course I have lived a life-time of seeing this every autumn, but on that day, the Big Picture came into focus more clearly and gave me the urge to put all this into words. I was a witness to the Great Cycle of Life. I know it’s a cliché, but there it was, all around me. The ground itself was covered by a blanket of moss and lichen that were feeding and consuming the organic material. The dead logs, many cleared from the trail by a chainsaw, were helpless to resist the countless fungi, moss, bacteria and water that were breaking a once tall and stately beech or maple or oak into mere molecules.
[A dead log feeds a number of organisms]
And, all this was done in total silence and would continue even under three feet of snow and ice and temperatures of -37 degrees.
[The ground cover of moss and lichen]
In six months, a small spore, a seed, a dormant larvae of a black fly would begin to revive and then bloom and the green would return.
Everything goes somewhere. “Matter cannot be created or destroyed…it simply changes form”. I think that’s Newton’s Second Law of Thermodynamics…but I could be wrong. I stopped being a science teacher a decade ago. Most things return in the spring. Some things take a longer time…but sooner or later it all comes around again.
The exception, I hope, is lunch duty.