Overlook the evidence and let yourself imagine


This guest post is by Lindsay McLaughlin. You can read a bit about her on the “Denizens” page

It’s snowing, and the temperature is hanging just below freezing. The flakes are light and small and fast, almost sleety; but they don’t amount to much, a dusting of powder over the brown leaves and fallen twigs. Still, the sky is sunless, a blanket of soft gray. The elegantly arching branches of the tulip poplar and the robust, sinewy branches of the oak are dusky brown against the pale sky. Evidently, a winter landscape.

Evidence, though, is a poor foundation on which to make a case. Evidence is about surfaces and edges and boundaries. This planet, this earth, this life is blurry and messy and uncontained. Things like times and seasons bleed into one another.

Three days ago, the air under the trees was sweet, birdsong twittered in the high branches. On Sunday afternoon some of us, (six adults, two small girls and a dog), took a rambling walk, around to Hunter’s Field. Emma and Wren giggled and hid in the field grass, popping up, “surprise!” to come skipping out, while Erin the dog whirled and tumbled around them. Earlier, just west of the creek, we had seen two miniature mushrooms with bright orange centers sprouting staunchly on the side of the path. Walking up past the campsite, just where the path opens out to the field, we stopped to admire the moss so verdant and vibrantly green among the tree roots.

It is possible sometimes to overlook the evidence and instead see the potency, the fullness shimmering before us. Mary Oliver would say that it’s a matter of paying attention. But not only that. Thanks to Scot, who regularly sends emails to the community with interesting quotes and links to intriguing websites, I read recently an excerpt from Oliver’s book Our World about her life with her partner and soulmate Molly Malone Cook, in which she says:

“Attention without feeling, I began to learn, is only a report. An openness – an empathy – was necessary if the attention was to matter.”

The snow is no longer falling. It has left the small slope behind my house coated in white mush. One robin, then two, appear and hop busily here and there, orange bibs bright and glowing in the milky afternoon light.

Evidence is what happens when we chronicle the data. The perplexing, echoing, fluid radiance of things is what happens when we throw objectivity and tidiness to the winds and open all the gates. Fortunately, in my experience, this doesn’t require emotional or spiritual virtuosity, just a willingness to allow spring in January.


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