It has been a few weeks now since I’ve visited my philosophy of Moose site–not that I don’t have things to say. Simply haven’t had time to say them as I would like. “Time”–another thing to write about! We’re never sure “what” it is ontologically, yet we spend it, waste it, find it, lose it, take it, and give it. We are on time, past time, behind time, and we don’t know where the time goes. But all of that is for another time. I had a wonderful morning a few days back and it sparked the following thoughts.
Some mornings are better than others. This is one way I know—experientially—that philosophical relativism is ultimately hopeless. It was born of arrogance and ignorance. “Man” is not “the measure of all things.” We live in the wilderness of the universe and our measure is as often taken as it is given. Good mornings are not just about the weather. They depend on how the day and I meet each other.
Sometimes it’s a cup of coffee in a big chair with sun through the window lighting up pine floorboards. A book to read, a poem to write, or just musement as I stare out the window. Or, it’s a charming chipmunk scurrying about on errands which I never fully comprehend; or perhaps a small band of hummingbirds making decisions about who gets to sip the sugar water next. In particular memories, I recall doing the NY Times crossword with my grandmother on a Sunday morning in a pine-laden living room surrounded by shelves of books and the sun peeking through forest green curtains. I am aware of my good fortune in this cosmos.
Sometimes it’s a walk outdoors. When I was young, I would sneak out into cold dew and tiptoe my way to the one fat tree in the middle of the swamp about a tenth of a mile from the back porch of our house. I would sit in the crotch of the tree and watch the red-wing blackbirds in the cattails and imagine myself to go back in time to romantic ways of being. I would venture into the state of nature as Rousseau envisioned it. And, when I was working on a dairy farm, I would shuffle in my work clothes down the road under a salmon blue and pink sunrise to bring sixty head of cows from pasture to barn. The lead cows would always await me at the gate and calmly lead the herd down to the barn. There was something deeply peaceful in those mornings, and the cows themselves expressed that same depth of calm. Wonders abound on good mornings.
On winter mornings, I would walk to the same swamp in flannel and wool, and slide around on pockets of ice in my over-sized boots. And I would break off what were left of the cattail stems and throw them like small javelins into the snow. The morning and I would be on a lark together.
As I got older, the walks would change. One day I would be wrapped in wool socks, leather boots, a wool shirt, and a raggedy jean vest with a handful of salted, dried beef liver in my pocket; and I would head across the road to the old logging roads that led up to the “mountains” that rose behind the lake on which I lived. Each mountain had a name: “Teaberry,” “Bullard, “Rattlesnake”—even though rattlesnakes had been scarce here for a century. Fall days were these. Scouting deer trails and talking with squirrels. I had one six-foot high stump that I used climb on and sit like an overgrown leprechaun and watch the beavers work. They would startle at first, then eventually ignore me and go on about their business. Mornings were wonderful for beaver work.
On other days, there would be several feet of snow on the ground, and after stoking the fire in my little woodstove and sipping a cup of instant coffee while dressing warmishly, I would grab my skis outside the door and venture for a lap or two of the frozen lake or take a few fun runs down nearby hills. These were exhilarating mornings, and yet the best of those mornings was returning to the steamy warmth of my little shack, toasting my homemade bread in my cast iron skillet, and settling into my big chair beside the stove while listening to my favorite Celtic musics on vinyl. These were days of poetry and wonder.
And there were later days of fall and spring when my dogs would wake me at 5:30 am and I would stumble to coffee and left-over cookies from the night before. I would shiver my way into jeans and sneakers, leash up the dogs, and head out the door and down the dirt drive—even on rainy mornings—and we would walk, jog, and run out into the woods looking for persimmons with which to make more cookies, or early birds, or occasional deer nestled in deep grasses. And, for better or worse, my dogs loved the baking of persimmon cookies.
I almost forgot the mornings of endurance, but they too were often good mornings. With young friends, I would play music in the cellar until 3 or 4 in the morning. To send them all home sober-ish, I would make a large breakfast of bacon, toast, and omelets—and occasionally some apple pie. We would jabber jollily of music and life. At 6 am my endurance sport guru and friend, Rich, would arrive with coffee in hand and we would head out for a twenty-mile shuffle. Rich was a natural comedian and he made the miles fade away—I almost felt like an autumn leaf floating to the ground as we traversed our town. Arriving home in late morning, I almost always felt light and weirdly energized.
But why all these reflections on and memories of mornings? Because some mornings are better than others and that is something important to experience, to know, and to remember. I can only hope my reflections will lead others to reminiscences of their good days. I needn’t list the bad days of disappointment, beatings, and darknesses of all sorts—they remain with me as clear as they came. Experience remains, I think, our best teacher. Faust sought something like my good mornings when the world enables little moments of perfection. Faust’s error, as I see it, was attempting to hold his moment of perfection still and steady. But life, as my old friend John McDermott used to say, is in the transitions; in the words of William James, it is “ever not quite.” I think we need, instead, to cherish our moments of perfection—our good mornings—as they come, and to let them slip away to wherever little perfections live until the next one appears.
These good mornings were all different in content, but they were all the same in feeling—they were the same insofar as the mornings and I fit each other in a natural and unforced way, the way that pine needles will sometimes make a perfect carpet in the sun. The best I can say is that I was completely, cosmically at home in this wilderness we call the universe. There were no tensions, distractions, or delusions—nothing to wake me up at 4 am with worry and frustration. Just me, awake to the world around me—awake to what the morning itself had to say to me. These are moments in a long life that I have cherished and still cherish. They are as comfortable as my old jean vest, as warm as the fire from my woodstove, and as homey as the smell of my bread in the oven. But I do not ask the mornings to stay, and I do not wonder why every morning, every day, cannot be as beautiful as these good mornings. I simply judge the morning as it judges me—the way I judge and sense the character of other human animals. In paraphrase of Thoreau, every day is a good day if we but know what to do with it. But the fact is, we human animals do not always know what to do with it. And the key word is “with”—we do not own the days; we live with them. Our energies do not always fit the morning’s energies. And, while I do think we can find ways to stay more awake and alert in the world, I do not think we can make perfections linger. Let us, then, not make Faust’s mistake. Let us learn to enjoy the good mornings as they come and to thank them as they pass away. Let us cherish our little perfections—after all, it is they who bring us the most important meanings of our lives.
Thanks to Monster for the photos!!