After last night’s rain the woods smell sensual—a mixture of leaves and musk. The morels have disappeared, and soon I’ll come across those yellow chanterelles, the kind they sell in town at the farmers’ market. Once I saw the Swedish woman who raises her own food foraging for them, two blond boys quarreling near the pickup, and the next morning they were selling them from their stand beside the road. Out here, among last year’s dead leaves with the new shoots of spruces poking through them, I’ve come to the place where light brightens a glade of ferns and the log someone else placed here—carved “B.W.”—where I sometimes sit to listen to the birds. Today the sun is breaking through the wet branches, revealing a clean sky, brilliant, cerulean. Then, suddenly, a raft of scudding clouds promising more rain. If it comes, I’ll read all afternoon— Henry James, or maybe Eudora Welty’s Delta Wedding, where so many characters vie for attention I can never keep them straight. Here, there’s no one else, no one to worry over or argue with or love. Maybe the earth was meant only for this: small comings and goings on the forest floor, the understory astir with its own secret life. If I sit still enough among the damp trees, sometimes I see the world without myself in it, and—it always surprises me— nothing at all is lost.
Since the phlox are dying and the daisies with their bright bodies have shattered in the wind, I go out among these last dancers, cutting to the ground the withered asters, the spent stalks of the lilies, the black rose, and see them as they were in spring, the time of eagerness and blossoms, knowing how they will all sleep and return; and sweep the dry leaves over them and see the cold earth take them back as now I know it is taking me who have walked so long among them, so amazed, so dazzled by their brightness I forgot their distance, how of all the chosen, all the fallen in the garden I was different: I alone could not come again to the world.