From the Meeting House Deck: A Writer’s View

By Susannah Risley

As a school­child, I did not like to face the black­board with its mid­night gloom. I always looked out the win­dows at any­thing green or blue, any bird in the trees. That was where I longed to be — not with white chalked sym­bols of the world, but in the actu­al liv­ing place. To this day, I can’t dia­gram a sen­tence, but I’m com­fort­able in nature.

Recent­ly I sat alone on the Meet­ing House deck at the Lan­dis Arbore­tum. I relaxed in the qui­et here and now: Nature is a true heal­er, not a use­less chat­ter­er. The sim­plic­i­ty of the what is” of the day brings me, with­out fan­fare, to my own what is.” I sit on an old chair and let go of notions of how to be. The mild breeze feels like a bap­tismal bless­ing. Am I always home and just fail to notice?

Autumn approach­es. The cal­en­dar says so. But cal­en­dars aren’t nec­es­sary to know that the year­ly reach of the trees and plants for the sun has stopped. The bus­tle of spring pro­duced a volup­tuous, sonorous sum­mer of deep­en­ing greens. Now there’s a pal­pa­ble pause before leaves begin to turn col­ors and spin to the ground, each leaf with its indi­vid­ual can­vas and story.

I watch a winged wasp climb a fence pick­et. In the tall grass­es and wild­flow­ers below, white and yel­low moths flut­ter about as if doing a rag­time dance. A blue­bird flies from one tree to anoth­er, then to the fil­i­greed shad­ow of trees, groom­ing itself and look­ing for morsels in the short grass. Two mourn­ing doves and a squir­rel are also explor­ing the same patch of shade. And why should it be oth­er­wise? I don’t know the names of most of the birds that fly by. I can’t name their indi­vid­ual songs, though it seems I’ve known them all my life: a mem­o­ry as cer­tain as breath­ing in and out.

How to describe the panoram­ic view of the Schoharie Val­ley and beyond on this par­tic­u­lar day? Some of the wood­land that cov­ered the hills has been cleared away to accom­mo­date farms. Some fields are still bright green, oth­ers, the light brown of spent corn har­vests or baled hay. From this dis­tance, the farms appear like small quilt­ed patch­es placed on rougher fab­ric. A few roads cut across. Words are inad­e­quate. There is too much to say, and the feel­ing is too large.

The blue­bird has returned to the tree’s shad­ow and is fuss­ing its way through the grass. Birds sing from trees, while oth­ers wheel in pairs above the meadow.

This is just one moment in time. Every­thing pass­es and changes. Gen­er­a­tions have come and gone. I do not know why I have been giv­en the mys­te­ri­ous gift to expe­ri­ence this par­tic­u­lar sun-filled day at the Meet­ing House. Yet here I am.

You are also invited.

Fic­tion writer Susan­nah Ris­ley has taught writ­ing work­shops in rur­al libraries across NYS, home­less shel­ters, schools, pris­ons and nature cen­ters. She held a fel­low­ship at the Mac­Dow­ell Colony and received a NEA grant.


Fall 2016

Volume 34 , Number 4

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