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QUINTESSENCE

Sojourners

photo credit: James Peat, South Dorset, UK
We could do worse.
I alternate between thinking of the planet as home - dear and familiar stone hearth and garden- and as a hard land of exile in which we are all sojourners. Today I favor the latter view. The word "sojourner" occurs often in the English Old Testament. It invokes a nomadic people's knowledge of estrangement, a thinking people's intuition of sharp loss. "For we are strangers before thee, and sojourners, as were all our fathers: our days on the earth are as a shadow, and there is none abiding."

We don't know where we belong, but in times of sorrow it doesn't seem to be here, here with these silly pansies and witless mountains, here with sponges and hard-eyed birds. In times of sorrow the innocence of the other creatures - from whom and with whom we evolved - seems a mockery. Their ways are not our ways. We seem set among them as among lifelike props for a tragedy - or a broad lampoon - on a thrust rock stage.

- Annie Dillard, "Teaching a Stone to Talk"

The weather is harsh today. A spin cycle of winds, driving rains, brief stillnesses and spots of sun followed by steely skies. The way in which winter fights the incremental arrival of spring, today the first day of spring, is played out in the heavens. Tender green grass and flower stems break earth, but the skies battle on a galactic level for dominance between light and dark, cold and warm, still and push.

My writer's thoughts are also caught between still and push. There is a lull toward stillness: to invite in the transitions in the seasons with reflection and awareness, and yet there is a strong sense of push. To birth the change in day, daylight, and energies now. There is much to do, more to accomplish, and time is a precious gift to waste.

Annie Dillard's timeless work "Teaching a Stone to Talk" is subtitled "Expeditions and Encounters." Her essays explore nature, they tease out subtleties, lift the skin on human dislocation. Her thoughts on solitude as "sojourners of spirit" on a harshly physical planet come to mind as I watch the wind and rain hammer the young weeping cherry. A hint of new bud on its branches, barely limned green, the slight tree bends to the lashing winds. I observe its travails, think about what I am, the "I" that is spirit and mind, and what I am trying to do here in my study, my words and thoughts weaving these works of imaginary tapestry. Out there beyond my window, earth expresses the hard unambiguous truth of the elements. Wind, rain, dark, light. Whereas inside, literally and metaphorically, I live and work in another realm.

I am a sojourner in one world, traveling the days and seasons, defined by my humanity yet essentially animal, a living being - and an alchemist in the other, an artist, inventing and imagining, seeking meaning. Which is more true? Or am I both in both? Is it any wonder we find ourselves uncertain of home?
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