Our Imperfect Paradise
Gretel Ehlich describes how life in the high mountains of Wyoming followed its necessary course on the day the London transit system was bombed.
July 7. As if anything could move or would, given the impetus ...a dead day, a war day, or is it only a dead eye looking at day? Sky singed gray goes dark. Then lightning dangles down, driving into the mountain like a bayonet, its handle on fire. Rain starts, stops. A wide hunk of rainbow severed from its arch rises behind the glacial erratic that marks my dog's grave—a spectral post to which a passing piece of ice was once tied.
As if anything could move even if it wanted to, not knowing it was dead, unable to lift a leg, gouge a bark from the throat, or cause an eyelid to lift the way the storm cloud does just now, peeling back, revealing snow and azure.
It’s time to meditate but I don’t. Instead, I look: three ground squirrels stand upright on a pile of boulders, holding their tiny hands together, bringing them to their mouths, then down again, tipping their heads forward, bowing almost, in thunder, in threading rain.
“The imperfect is our paradise,” the poet Wallace Stevens said. An evening walk over the forested glacial moraine to look down at a celadon lake—itself a kind of ancient Chinese vessel, sloshing, spilling, breaking open, pouring itself into another shattered vase.
The pink day ends in flame. The tree trunk stirs black into chattering leaves that do not know what they are saying. The leaves are heart-shaped. They twirl on their stems and green needles rasp softly above the long meadow where ice once traveled, gouging, spilling, scouring, and heaving boulders from its white shoulders as it slid. Now there is no ice and what’s left of the wind is directionless, too shy to carry a storm.
Radio on, teakettle whistling, war news from Iraq while a raven flies northeast, cocking his shoulder each time he caws, letting himself fall a little as if he’d been hit, then righting himself, mocking our human confusion and penchant for war as a hard wind drives daylight away.
Night. A sheet of charcoal clouds stretches into white lace: confusion letting in light. Jupiter hangs tough in the eastern sky. Idle thoughts: imagine if during a lifetime, the moon was full only once—fifty years to get full, fifty years to wane.
This morning London was bombed and three robins fledged. They hatched out in a nest above my door. No human commotion bothered them. One by one they dropped down at my feet, froze in place, stumbled, and flew. The bombs were not dropped from planes but brought quietly onto a bus and three trains. Those who survived were soot-covered and badly burned. “They looked like night,” someone said.
At dawn frost slid from the roof of my cabin. There was a clatter, then sudden rain. Silky phacelia stood purple and straight, pussy toes bowed their heads. Sun shot up above high mountains. A pine-covered moraine roared with green wind. Two sandhill cranes walked the ridge calling, calling. The last hanging cornice gave way to heat. Meltwater in the four gorges had already gone white. By the time Tom and I marry in August, snow will be on the way.
Gretel Ehrlich is poet, novelist, equestrian, and outdoor adventurer. Her most recent book of nonfiction is The Future of Ice (Pantheon).