Falling Into Enormity

Lucky Peak Reservoir by Boise, Idaho.  Photo by Karthik Chinnathambi 

(Side track:  I’m still going to write about the first influence on our fear of death as I promised in the last post, but something came up and I wanted to write about it before I forgot. Editor.)  

Ever had one of those moments when the blinders peel back and you suddenly look at the world around you like it’s the first time you ever had eyes?

I had one yesterday.  We were out for our second adventure with the kayaks and, in spite of every reason for it not to, everything felt perfect.  The weather was supposed to be overcast, windy, and cold.  Water levels are low so the part of the reservoir where we’d initially planned to paddle was high and dry.  We got started late and then the scramble for an alternate place to launch made us even later.  And the launch site we did eventually find involved an awkward climb down to the water and broken glass on the shore to boot.

But somehow, none of it got to us.  We didn’t care.  Not because we were trying to stay positive or anything, but because that’s just how we woke up.  We were excited to hit the water again whatever the circumstances, so we brought extra layers of warm clothing, stayed flexible, stepped gingerly, and eventually found ourselves paddling along under much better conditions than we’d expected.  We were gazing up at sunshine and basalt cliffs, green mountainsides covered with wild, black-eyed Susans, and the sweet scent of blooming bitterbrush on a very, very mild breeze.

Turns out the Weather Man was wrong.  Go figure.

Towards the end of a long, lovely paddle we found ourselves a little way up the river that feeds the reservoir, and we finally beached near a grassy meadow to pee.  (Interesting activity in a wetsuit, BTW.)  It was an amazing spot, secluded and silent, surrounded by steep hillsides covered with Ponderosa pine and jutting rock spires.  Once we’d relieved ourselves we just stood there in the middle of the meadow staring, breathing in the heavy scent of pine, watching cumulus clouds blow across the narrow strip of sky above us while a bald eagle flew in and out of it’s nest in a towering, old growth pine.  It was something to behold.  It truly was.

And then, because I was so damn moved by it all, I started to sing, although it wasn’t even a song really.  Just a melody and some made-up sounds because I didn’t know a real song with words that came anywhere near doing justice to the place.  Maybe a hymn could have done it, but I didn’t know any.  Or better yet, a song from the Shoshone Paiute people who were on this land first and took better care of it, but I didn’t know any of those either.  So I made up my own half-song/half-prayer kind of thing, something that sounded more or less like how I felt, and while I was singing it everything around us seemed to get very quiet.  Kinda eerie.

But then I ran out of song so I stopped, and it was just a few seconds afterward that it happened.  That moment I mentioned earlier.  The one where I fell into enormity.

Everything sounded unnaturally still, the way things always do when you stop making noise in a really silent place.  I watched as the last of my song settled down to the grass like an old leaf falling, or a layer of dust.

And then, right after that, the wind started.

We heard it first like a low, sweet note that seemed to come from everywhere all at once, and when I looked up into the branches of a Ponderosa pine standing nearby, I suddenly remembered that what I was hearing was the sound air makes when it moves gently through pine needles.  It hit me in a flash; the mechanism of that sound, the wind through needles, was the exact same mechanism at play when I was singing.  It was the same air moving over my vocal cords and, coming out of left field the way it did, the thought kind of stunned me.  I felt a sudden and surprisingly profound kinship with that tree, a sense of shared beauty that instantly dwarfed my usual identity as a human being.

Please understand, it’s not that I didn’t know the facts before.  Of course I did.  I’ve heard the wind blowing through pines all my life and I learned the mechanics of sound in elementary school.  But that prior knowledge must have only penetrated as far as my head because I never felt the tactile, gut-level sense of sameness before, of what this tree and I were both doing.  Somehow, I’d always thought that because I was a human being, my sounds were different.  Higher.  I was singing, whereas the trees were just making noise.  It was a shock to suddenly realize that I was just making noise, too.  It was only because it was my noise that I knew it meant something.

Then the wind swelled through the canyon, catching the leaves of a copse of young cottonwood trees, making a higher, rustling sound that worked in exquisite counterpoint to the sweet note of the pines.  I felt my heart swell with it, too, and then noticed all the birdsong kicking up, various honks and calls and peeps and cries, and those sounds struck me as a kind of staccato punctation to the deeper melody laid down by the trees.  And after that…well…I pretty much just floated away in slack-jawed wonder, lost in the ebb and flow of the wind and water and the unearthly music they were making.  I was fighting back tears and retained just enough awareness of human world protocols to turn my face away from the hubster in embarrassment.  But other than that I fell deep and hard into another world that was a whole lot bigger.

I don’t know.  Standing there listening to the rich, tenor sound of wind through pines…for all the world like the french horn section at a premier symphony orchestra…I guess I finally just fell out of my head.  The sounds flowing through the canyon turned out to be the very song I’d been trying so hard to sing moments before, only times a thousand.  No.  A million.  It was like they’d all been standing around…the trees, the birds, the mountains, the wind…quietly amused, listening to me struggle to find the right music.  And then, when I couldn’t, they stepped in to play it for me.

It was such a gift, and I think I started crying because I felt…just a little bit…like I didn’t really deserve it.  Like there I’d been standing, subconsciously believing that I was all that.  More evolved than any of them, with a song that was more complex and meaningful because I was human.

Fortunately, none of them seemed to care.  They just circled me up and sang me into their bigger world anyway, and I got to realize where I was wrong without feeling shamed for it.  Which actually, when you think about it, is quite a trick.  I wonder if I could learn how to do that?

This canyon is actually in China, but it sure FELT like this.

copyright Dia Osborn 2012