Moments Just Before

Despite the warm temperatures that graced us earlier in the week, the world around me here in the Hudson Valley is still mostly grey. It’s the time of year that most closely resembles the short, dark days of autumn (though it is not autumn) because the angle of the sun casts shadows that mirror the ones it throws on the fields and over the river in November, too.


Piles of matted leaves are clustered in the corners of parking lots and pushed up against the foundation of our basement in musty, moldy waves. The ruddy, brownish grass, still matted and stunned from the weight of all that snow and cold, is starting to mottle–taking on tinges of yellow and green–but most people’s lawns still look, well, dead.

We have miles to go before the trees in northeast U.S. get dressed up in their riot of color and chlorophyll (only then might we allow ourselves to forget, for a time anyway, the ferocity of the winter we just endured) and it is tempting to demand that the summer Be Here Now. We long for green and for warm and for flip flops. We wish, anxiously, to just get on with things already, but no amount of twitching or cajoling or complaining will cause the leaves to bloom.

Yes, I’m talking about the weather again today (if I were to do an inventory of the 50+ posts that I’ve written on this blog so far (which I recently did) I’d realize I mention it often), but I’m not going to complain about the temperature gradient or snowpack. Instead, the weather has gotten me thinking about change and inevitability and the way I’m noticing the elements of this spring this year, and the evidence of its slow but steady arrival (or its arrival closing in on us?) in a different, more personal way.

Sure, sure the metaphor of seasonal change = a person developing internally or discovering a new way of seeing or being in the world is a trope as old as time. See: The Winter of My Discontent. See: Spring Awakening. See: until the rain comes and overstays, we take sunshine for granted. All helpful sentiments. All true. All completely cliché. The wisdom of clichés, of course, being their very banality–an unoriginality contingent on the universality of the experience they describe (if the experience was peculiar or special, it wouldn’t warrant a cliché).


In this case, all things (people, places, ideas, seasons) change whether we bother to bear witness to it or not.

The thing about staying in a place (a reoccurring theme on this side of the blog) is the need to be on the lookout for change and inspiration, to stay alert for the soupçon because, more often than not, the portions of revision won’t be obvious…or will be so ordinary you might miss them. The familiarity of the happenings of the spring in the northeast (root, shoot, blossom, repeat) makes me susceptible to becoming immune to springtime’s redesign of every branch and plant and shrub in my yard. And most impatient about the duration of it.

The same goes for the internal adjustments we try to make in ourselves. I’ve been attempting, as you maybe discerned from my posts about job seeking and the way I’m foraging around my life for seeds of contentment and peace, to better understand myself. To, perhaps, reinvent myself. To, at the very least, notice what I notice and then head in that direction when I’m looking for What Comes Next.

The thing is, I often miss the minuscule changes that are happening inside my own self, too. Instead, I fantasize about the glory. I yearn to arrive at the promised land, the place that represents the sum of the many infinitesimal adjustments and modifications I’m making along the way. (The poem gets published. The job gets offered. I’m walking around my yard in bare feet.)

Instead of noticing the miraculous, minute-by-minute, transformation happening around me or in me, I often insist on not looking until beauty (or a brass ring) slaps me in the face. I don’t bother to recognize that–forgive me for the additional platitude–the journey is the joy.


I’ve always thought that sentiment was bullshit (and it might actually be just that). Who appreciates the airplane ride to Paris–don’t you just want to be in Paris? The same goes for writing a poem or designing a more efficient and pleasing cardboard box, or, you know, it Being Summer. I like having written the poem. I like it Being Summer. I’ve never thought about redesigning the cardboard box, but I like the idea of having done that, too.

The steps to that kind of creation (or transformation) are arduous, ugly, lonely actions; the very moments of life we most often want to avoid–similar to these muddy, wet days of spring when the buds are tiny and delicate, the warmer air still carries a chill. Harbingers of eventual triumph, yes, but still pitiful suggestions of the overall potential of things. (i.e. the germ of a poem, the awareness of the desire for a new kind of box, the one or two virescent shoots of grass in an ocean of brown ones.)

Perhaps these are the moments when we are most obligated to look; to see. The moments just before the opus. The breath right before the glory.


Another poem:

Part of Eve’s Discussion

It was like the moment when a bird decides not to eat from your hand,
and flies, just before it flies, the moment the rivers seem to still
and stop because a storm is coming, but there is no storm, as when
a hundred starlings lift and bank together before they wheel and drop,
very much like the moment, driving on bad ice, when it occurs to you
your car could spin, just before it slowly begins to spin, like
the moment just before you forgot what it was you were about to say,
it was like that, and after that, it was still like that, only
all the time.

~Marie Howe, from The Good Thief






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