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.
From a Park Bench
Under the green domes of maples light spangles the abundant slabs of moss. Grass won’t grow here, but something else has taken over. When I went into the drugstore yesterday the clerk who moved away had been replaced by a girl who looked so much like her I thought for a moment she’d come back to town with her hair cut. And in the second grade, when Bobby Markley died, a new boy from Ohio promptly sat beside me at his desk. Out here, in the city park, people are almost always interchangeable, though the summer I’ll hate to lose supplants itself with a wan and amber sun that isn’t quite the same, reminding me of larger griefs not easily consoled. “Life is the saddest thing there is, next to death,” Edith Wharton wrote, she who walked so often in the park listening to the old, remembered voices. She must have sat under trees not unlike this one, heavy with sorrows she couldn’t speak aloud. She mourned her friends, and one friend like no other, while the late sunlight passed across the grasses, and now she too is gone.