I lived in Arkansas from 1987 through 1992, including a year in Newton County and a year in Winslow. When I returned to Kansas City, I swore that I had inhaled enough fresh air to last a lifetime.
Now I seem to be addicted to it, craving hours or afternoons, whatever I can carve from my attempts to support myself by working a day job in town. I drive, I park, I walk, I greedily inhale the air of the river and the song of the birds. I stand on my porch in my pajamas, neck craned backward to widen my gaze. No moment seems too fleeting for the fragrance of the Delta winds.
My mother kept a tattered copy of “Birds of North America – Midwest Region” by our breakfast room window. I long for a NORCAL version. I cannot distinguish between creatures as of yet. I mistake falcons for hawks and ducks for geese. I raise the binoculars which I inherited from my favorite curmudgeon and squint my failing eyes through their lenses. I tilt my head and strain to discern the calls flung across the meadow from tree to tree.
At the end of each day, I plot my next greedy escape to the by-ways of the Loop, where I’ll park my car and make my way along the river banks, walking stick in hand, camera dangling from my neck. Each time I venture a bit farther, bolder, freer. My lungs expel the lingering poison of the city’s grime. I can almost breathe again.
It’s the twenty-second day of the sixty-first month of My Year Without Complaining. Life continues.
“Wild Geese” by Mary Oliver
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
from Dream Work by Mary Oliver
published by Atlantic Monthly Press
© Mary Oliver