From the time we are born,
our one absolutely solid reality seems to be our own bodies, at least as soon
as we discover our toes. Other people come and go, places change, but in the darkest
night of uncertainties we can always wrap our arms around ourselves and say, "I
Yet there may be no more astonishing
fact that sciences teach than that our bodies are not at all solid, not even all
ours. Our molecules, atoms, and electrons are in constant motion in comparatively
huge spaces. Our cells are constantly dying, replaced by increasingly weaker ones.
are literally not the same persons we were short years ago. And our bodies harbor
billions of "guests," such as the bacteria which constantly help process
the food and water that run this complex, spacey, and energetic collection of
cells that seem a solid body. In motion there is life.
it is on the marsh. Neither a still pond nor a vigorous river or pounding ocean,
this water and its soggy land is full of subtle yet relentless motions beyond
the molecular that I love to read. Fortunately I can do so without the disrupting
motions of jet skis or speed boats on the water.
be fully aware of motion, perhaps one must be as still as possible, surrounded
by silence. That's not so difficult on the marsh. Most often I feel the air lightly
blowing on my skin and watch the dimpled skin of the water moving sluggishly with
the tide. It's comforting, and I notice my own breathing--and surely my blood
pressure--becomes calm and deep, and I am aware of scents in the air. The rich
smell of the living/dying marsh is relieved by an overlay of honeysuckle, or aggravated
by the paper mill smell when the wind blows south.
a fish jumps high for a breath-or for joy, and I am reminded of stronger winds.
As one coming hurricane began filling the marsh to the brim, I started walking
on my pier, only to be pushed immediately to my knees by the wind. My blood pounded
in my ears in concert with the winds. That night the trees went into violent motion,
with a strange howling song through the pines punctuated by loud cracks and sounds
of crashing. It was noisy, but also invigorating, especially after the storm when
oxygen ions dancing in the air made me feel more alive with every breath.
marsh itself is full of motion. Sometimes it's very quick, like the fiddler crabs
scurrying to their holes at the first footsound or the complaining egrets and
herons interrupted in their stately walks along the edge. One can almost tell
time by the regular tides, which carry bits or masses of matted grasses in the
spring, grass seed in the summer, crabs, and those ever-present small rainbow
marsh is wide, re-created constantly by the creek moving restlessly from side
to side. Our pier, once perched on the edge, is gradually "moving" to
the middle after a decade; perhaps it will span the creek in another decade. Yet
the relentless movement is imperceptible day by day, or even season by season.
The slow motion of the seasons seems
to be even more evident on the marsh. Every day in early spring, the bright green
marsh grass emerges, piercing the winter mats of dead grass. Then the fiddler
crabs start building their houses, drowned twice a day by tides.
the grasses green, the birds who love the edges fill the air with motion and song,
building their nests.
As summer progresses
and the green darkens, the butterflies and dragonflies begin darting about with
the hummingbirds and the goldfinches. It's best not to blink too often if you
wish to watch them. Once as I mowed the grass, I kept going through a swarm of
antlions rising from their sandy holes, parting to let me through.
is heralded by floating clouds of yellow sulphur butterflies, hovering only briefly
over yellow wildflowers along our road and investigating the last blasts of color
from the bright pink mandevilles, orange lantanas, and coral geraniums, which
also have bright and brief lives.
favorite winter motion is that of snow gradually piling up on the pines, waiting
for the wind to shake it off. Then too I can see the motion of animals otherwise
hidden, in the morning tracks on the new snow. Here are visible signs of the night
visitors, motions which I rarely see directly.
Why should I not believe
in the intricate dances going on inside my own body, its cells and atoms? These
tracks, too, show up on the snow of my skin. Someday--not too soon, I hope--the
dance will slow, changing to a slow waltz perhaps, and my molecules will join
the greater dance, the one that I can glimpse reflected in the marsh.
Living Magazine, November/December 2007