I want to speak to you of my task, since returning from that wild place where the rivers offered themselves to me in nostalgic oxbow bends and suck-you-under baptismal currents. It’s one I have not yet made neat and performable like so many other tasks I have been entrusted with, that live on my wrinkled to-do lists or under the glassy too-bright surface of touch screens - the kind that salivate at the thought of a tick-mark reward.
Nevertheless, this is a task that is worthy of announcing, albeit half in shadow, leaking out from under the thick misty veil of everyday. In the face of it I grasp and fumble for the words that can begin to give shape and form to what is unshaped and wraith-like, driven by the certainty that this task is decidedly the most important thing I could ever turn towards. Indeed such tasks have a way with all of us who find ourselves standing on the dark forested fringes of the village.
I’ve found a backdoor where we can skip the names that keep things small. This door is worn and rusty. Its hinges screech only halfway - not heard or seen where the sun flirts the land bright-eyed in his promise of comfortable becoming, but at night, and under, where the creatures are belly to the earth and amorphous. Where one’s senses become heightened necessarily by the thick presence of Mystery, and hairs stand on end with the Holy. This is where we’re going.
The door is so ancient it has been swallowed by the landscape around it and to see it you must offer yourself first to the rhythmic swirl of life and death where you too will be reclaimed by the elementals that hold shape and structure and allow it to flux and change both.
Life happens in the intervals. I say that now, just in case you want more on this door and its relationship to your manageable to-dos and your Sunday prayers...
Behind the door I found the moose skull in a circle of dead cottonwood trees, bleached white from the sun - the skull and the trees both. In the eye socket, that space where a vision occurred, a tiny purple Pacific Aster grew, replacing the iris with rays of lavender, the pupil yellow like the wolves here. It had been watching me with its flower eyes, as I came upon the circle, so stark in death amidst life that it pulled off the impossible task of disappearing in plain sight, and I had to look twice to see. It had been watching me as I danced for those great mountains, whose peaks, regal and dangerous, rose out of the lakes like a rough Aphrodite. Beckoning me close with my mouth agape in the fiery light of sunset.
I place my hand on the skull. The dome of bone sloping up and over, ridge-like, to fit just-so in the divot of my palm.
I hear a noise behind me and my heart skips. At the edge of the river on the far bank appears an adult female moose, brethren to the calcified one under my hand. All legs and nose, she is breathtaking in her ironic delicacy and grace, combing the water’s edge for reeds and roots. A riparian beast built like rickety geometries; all vertices and lines and angular slopes, but moving like water, as she has learned to do in her apprenticeship over the years.
Her apparition felt important. The purple flower in the eye socket wavered its consent and from then forth, I carried that skull with me as I wandered the land picking up pieces where they lay.
It was in this place of wildflower and wolf song that I was bestowed this task I cannot name well. And now, back inside these four walls, inside this concrete city where many of us call home I need to return to the door more regularly to stay sane.
To keep my toes in the dark current.
To place my hand on that warm bone again.
There is a tension in the tasks we are moved to die for. I’m not talking about the mundane. I hope I’ve made that clear. I’m talking about the real tasks that, as Rilke said, come up from that “deep place from which your life flows," that you cannot ignore, and will not survive reconciling, in any small sense of that word. These are the tasks that ask you to lay down your small largeness and assume the form of the eternal, inky black and mysterious. They are the ones calling out to you from hidden passageways and in signs and symbols placed just-so like flower eyes in bone sockets and watery moose movements. These are the tasks that cannot really be explained or ever completed but in whose courtship burgeons a vitality and purpose unimaginable until tasted, radical on the palate, and alluringly dangerous like snow-shrouded mountains at dawn, or the rush of river over moss rock.
True living happens in the tension of what is seen and offered, touchable and tangible on the outside for our people, and what is hidden and dangerous, wraith-like, slippery with ecstasy, on the inside.
I am tasked with holding this tension...for now.
And staying true to it. A woman singing at the crossroads, arguably ruined by the knowing of an inhabited life. And all I can do is be with the task and sit in silence and smile a small smile when the crows start up outside my window in raucous choirs and do my best not to feel unbearably alone. It is the path of the untamed heart. If I know one thing I know this...and you will know it too when it is your time; some of us are not content to fall asleep while the world, in its wild way, dances on.