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.
The World Book
When the woman in blue serge held up the sun, my mother opened the storm door, taking the whole volume of S into her hands. The sun shown as a sun should, and we sat down at the table leafing through silks and ships, saints and subtraction. We passed Scotland and Spain, street- cars and seeds and even the Seven Wonders until the woman who owned them skipped to the solar system and said it could be ours. My mother thought, as I held my breath, and while she was writing the check for everything, A through Z, I noticed the room with its stove and saucers and spoons. I was wearing a sweater and skirt and shoes and there at the window the sun was almost as clear as it was in the diagram where its sunspots, ninety-three million miles from the earth and only a page from Sumatra, were swirling. The woman stood up, slamming it shut, and drove down the street to leave us in Saginaw, where I would wait for the world to arrive. And each morning, walking to school, I believed in the day it would come, when we’d study Sweden or stars and I’d stand at the head of the classroom and take the words of the world from my satchel, explaining the secrets.