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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