that air

15Aug09

One of my sisters is arriving in Paris today.  Maybe it’s that, maybe it’s the strange slow Northwestern approach to Fall (as a Midwesterner by birth, I’m still disoriented by a Fall or Spring that stretches longer than three weeks or so).  But today, there’s a wistful nostalgia and a vague but strong wanderlust in the moments that are less chaotic.  We picked blackberries at Discovery Park today, and, under the pretense of getting the baby to sleep, I wandered down a path alone (the baby really was close to sleep, so I was as close to solitude as these days will allow).  An aroma met me– some mix of brown weeds drying in the sun after a few days of rain– the burgeoning blackberries–  flowers that had dried on the branch– again, I don’t know what it was, but it was transporting.  I nearly cried with the effect of this smell… a complex wood-dirt-perfume.  One of the strangest parts of this life on earth is that you can’t get these types of experience on demand.  You simply have to wait.  Times that promise a sort of return leave you wanting, and gracious moments like these (in the middle of a challenging parenting day, where I was wearily wishing I were better at the job) broadside you when you’re least expecting it.

I’ll never forget a moment in one of my too-few trips to New York City.  After navigating the city as a tourist for a couple days, poring over maps and squinting surreptitiously at street signs, walking miles over pavement, and receiving, spottily, the throbbing input of masses of people and human language in all its forms, we stumbled onto a little corner of a city block that had been made into a green space.  It was humble but powerful.  Small paths led around trees into little alcoves where people could sit.  It was dusk, and summer.  The plants sighed out that particular smell that they exude when the sun goes down and the moisture of the air settles a bit.  And it was such a surprise to greet it in that context that I, like today, found that I was on the edge of tears.  To complete the picture, we met a (homeless?) traveler that, perhaps under the same spell, had taken his shoes and socks off to step in a puddle left by the evening watering, and the aroma there was a mix of infection and rotten leather.

For further realism, I nursed today in a spot where there was clearly a rotting animal nearby.  The dry weeds scratched my back and my sweet boy was inexplicably fussy.  All of this to say… those beautiful wisps of something that take you out of yourself into some sort of ecstasy are SO often sandwiched by the baser notes of experience.  And that’s, of course, what makes them so enchanting.

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5 Responses to “that air”

  1. 1 Karen

    Thanks for sharing. This makes a beautiful word picture.

  2. I know exACTly what smell you’re talking about! I’ve been smelling it lately too.

    And ah, yes, nursing on logs.

  3. oh hi, that’s me up there, Susanna. Cooper Journal is the site for Cooper Artist Housing…

  4. 4 cris

    I’m slowly finding my way back into being into those moments as a parent. I finally realized I was so busy trying to capture them for my kids, I was failing to savor them for myself; and I’m such a sensate that to miss those moments was to fail to feed a part of myself.

    This is an amazing time of year for these moments. Even the sunlight on dry grass was capturing me tonight.

  5. 5 Beth Eisinger

    One of my favorite lines to a Sixpence song says, “The tension is to be loved, when its like a passing note to a beautiful beautiful chord.” I sense the Lord, hear his beautiful chords, so passingly. I will enter into a room and smell his scent and the curtains are still swaying, like he just left through my window. He “shows up” finally in Gorecki’s symphony in my car with the trees wild and black against the night sky. Or in a strong wind, with the leaves swirling around my body. And then He is gone, and I have no idea when I will see him again. In those moments, when the natural world is transfigured before me and I am allowed for a moment to see its under-pinnings, I become like Peter, James, and John, when Jesus is transfigured into all his glory before them: “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters–one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” Like them I don’t want the moment to end. Let me set up a tent to keep your glory in Lord! I want to be in control of when I see you again. Yet, whenever you leave, Lord, it keeps me longing, and then when I least expect it, there you are again when I round the corner. You always come through the back door of my life.


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