Last week Steve and I spent a few days at Lake Tahoe with my parents. We stayed right on the lake, which was a treat, because while we have been to Tahoe hundreds of times, we rarely get to stay on the water. It snowed the previous day, so it was chilly, but from sunrise to sunset, we watched the clouds and the sun make their way across and around the lake.
The water sparkled, and the water lapped against the shore, reminding me to breathe and just listen. In fact, I couldn’t take my eyes off the lake, and throughout the day, I would step out to the balcony, just to hear the water. Maybe it’s because the water is higher this year, or maybe I am just paying closer attention. But I don’t remember the sound of the lake before, softer than a wave, but more reliable than a ripple. We were on the north end, but facing west. The water shimmered all day long, a little different every time I looked.
Inside we followed the news. Puerto Rico, the NFL, healthcare, North Korea, Russia…you know the list. It’s exhausting, keeping up and keeping the faith that we will all be ok.
I kept thinking, if I could just bring the sound home with me, I could relax. If I could capture the sparkle, I could remember how beautiful this world is.
We did venture to one of my favorite places, Sugar Pine Point State Park, and the geese were waiting. In groups of three, they flew overhead, honking loudly, just in case we didn’t notice. After driving the 70+ miles around the lake, we returned back to our spot, and the geese were waiting for us here, too.
And I kept breathing, all the way through sunset.
When it was dark, I snuck outside again, just to hear the water.
When we came home to work and deadlines and a little despair over the state of our country, I tried to remember the sparkle and the sound, and the thrill of having the geese fly over us. How good the air felt, how I love having this time with my parents, how the people in my life are so shiny and bright, even as we are worried and afraid. We will be ok.
I tried to write a poem about it, and came up short. I’ll keep trying, but for today (as always), Mary Oliver has the words to help me remember to breathe:
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