It was gently raining when we awakened this morning, but the sun was breaking through along the horizon by the time we made it outside into the new day.
We are all very conscious of the weather here in coastal Virginia this week as we watch the updates on the progress of Hurricane Florence. We are on high ground and so flooding isn’t a concern. But we live in a forest, and any amount of wind can change the landscape here; especially when the ground is saturated.
It looks as though the storm will make landfall far to our south, and the track no longer suggests it might travel northwards into Central Virginia. Yet Florence remains a dangerous storm, and is absolutely huge. We may start feeling its outer bands of rain and wind sometime tomorrow or Friday.
Which made today all the sweeter. Do you know the Japanese term, Wabi-Sabi? The Japanese find beauty in the transience and ultimate imperfection of all phenomena. The impermanence and changeability of the world around us heightens our appreciation of its beauty. We can appreciate things while feeling a deep tenderness for their inherent imperfection.
I was pondering these things this morning as I wandered through our upper garden, wondering how it might appear in a day or so after wind and heavy rain have their way with it. Already, our tall goldenrod and black-eyed Susans lean over into the paths, making them almost disappear in the abundance of growth.
It is my first time wandering through the garden like this since I got a nasty insect bite last Friday afternoon. It is still a mystery what bit me, as I was fully armored to work outdoors. It was a small bite at first, but quickly blistered and swelled up to a massive angry red blotch that stretched several inches away from the original bite on my knee. It has been a slow process of tending it, and I stayed indoors until yesterday, hoping to avoid another until this one was resolved.
But today I was out in the early morning wetness, capturing the beauty of it, and trying to ignore the mosquitoes greeting me along the way. I wanted to see everything and admire everything on the chance that the coming storm will shatter its early September magnificence. It was the beautiful calm before the storm, and we have taken today to celebrate it.
The rain was past and the day gilded with golden September sunshine when we set out along the Colonial Parkway to see the sky and watch the rising waters along the James and York Rivers. If you’ve never seen the sky filled with enormous, rain shadowed clouds in the day or two before a hurricane approaches, you’ve missed one of the most beautiful spectacles of atmospheric art.
The clouds are arrayed in regular, rhythmic patterns, punctuated here and there with towering, monstrous storm clouds. The sky is blue and clear beyond them. They float rapidly across the sky, these outer bands of the approaching storm. These days of waiting are moody, morphing quickly from dull to golden and clear blue to stormy grey.
One keeps an eye on the sky while pacing through the rituals of preparing. There is an edge to the mood as highways fill with strangers moving northwards, inland, away from home and into an uncertain future. We encountered one today at the next gas pump who needed to tell us he was traveling, just passing through, on his journey to somewhere safer than here.
We found a nearby parking lot filled this morning with state police, huge generators, Klieg lights, and emergency response trailers. The lot was filled at eight, but emptying out just a few hours later. We’re still wondering where the equipment will ultimately end up. We hope not here…
I wondered whether the butterflies would move out ahead of the storm. But we counted more than a dozen as we drove along the Parkway from Jamestown to Yorktown. We saw mostly small ones, Sulphurs, but we were glad for their happy fluttering along the roadside. We noticed the tide is already high along the way. Jamestown Island is closed as preparations there continue.
The rivers lap high up into the reeds, mostly covering the narrow, sandy river beaches. The York River is already climbing the rip rap hardened banks constructed a few summers ago to protect the shoreline. Small Coast Guard craft patrolled the river near Yorktown, but that didn’t deter a few families here and there, determined to enjoy this bright and sultry day at the beach.
The lizards were scampering around the drive and back steps when we returned home. They’d been basking in the mid-day sun; our return disturbed their peace.
The squirrels had been at the grapes again, and we saw a pair of hummingbirds light in a Rose of Sharon tree nearby, watching us arrive.
It was too silent, though. We didn’t hear the usual chatter of songbirds in the trees. It was still, too. Though the wind was blowing off the rivers, here the air hung heavy and still.
I believe in luck and omens, and perhaps that is why I planted a few little pots of Baptisia seeds this morning. I’d knicked the seed pods from a plant I’ve watched growing all summer at the Botanical garden, and carried them in my pocket for weeks.
With the seeds tucked into little pots out on the deck, I’m already thinking of the sprouts that will soon emerge. Life goes on. I believe that is the wisdom of wabi-sabi.
No matter the current circumstance, change is constant. We can’t outrun it, or stop it. Wisdom invites us to embrace it, observe its power, and find the ever-present beauty, come what may.
Woodland Gnome 2018
* * *
“To Taoism that which is absolutely still or absolutely perfect
is absolutely dead,
for without the possibility of growth and change there can be no Tao.
In reality there is nothing in the universe
which is completely perfect or completely still;
it is only in the minds of men that such concepts exist.”
“But when does something’s destiny finally come to fruition?
Is the plant complete when it flowers?
When it goes to seed? When the seeds sprout?
When everything turns into compost?”