– Sitting still

This drought is hard on living things with shallow root systems. For weeks I’ve been moving the sprinkler around the yard, trying to hit each spot every few days. Around 8 o’clock the other night, I was standing in my driveway, watching the oscillating streams that were illuminated by the street light. On the other side of Puddingstone Road, Steff emerged with her children from the lit foyer, saw me in the mostly dark, and asked in a friendly way if I was watching my grass grow. “Yes… yes, I am.” A simple answer, yet not quite right.

Plant & brick detail, wet

Often in the summer I sit on the front steps, looking at the current state of affairs in the yard: subtle undulation of brick, mix of blooms and leaves, shadow and light on the lawn. Sometimes I look across to the temple, and I check out the greenness of the grass or the alertness of the annuals or the bend in the trunk of the tall white birch, which Dick tends while Rufus, his bulldog, keeps him company. In an hour, creatures might shift a bit, puddles may appear, but nothing much changes — nothing more than this, anyway:

A haiku by Shiki (Japanese. 1867-1902):

The sparrow hops
Along the verandah,
With wet feet.

Our front door, unless we’re asleep, is always open to the storm door, so we can look out. This morning, Grace perched herself on the front steps: Grace, sitting still for a changenot feeling well, sitting quietly. That’s my summer spot. Today I sat inside, on the stairs that go up, and looked out at her looking out. I thought of how a moment freezes when we watch our children, still, like this. Eli told me once that he’s noticed me stand in a doorway and watch the girls, who go to bed earlier than he does, as they lie there. “You like to watch us sleep, right, Mom?” All parents do: It’s the only time, kids, that you stop moving, and that Time stops, going neither forward into your future or looking back over its shoulder at your earlier selves. It stops. I study you, in the absolute present. This is not time expanding, as it does when a person becomes absorbed in the activity of writing or gardening or making music or love. That kind of flow has movement in it, even if the movement makes the experiencer lose consciousness of self and time. What I’m talking about here is Time… pausing. Time bare of verbs.

One by Issa (Japanese. 1763-1827):

How lovely,
Through the torn paper window
The Milky Way.

I was not, then, watching the grass grow two nights ago. More like me, grass, water, dark, warm air, streetlights, and still.

Grace and Jane on front steps—–

Photographs of Grace alone and Grace & Jane by Eli.
Haiku from
Haiku (Everyman’s Library, 2003).

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