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He's late! He's late! "The White Rabbit," illustration by John Tenniel for "The Nursery Alice" (1890). Image in public domain.

He's late! He's late! "The White Rabbit," illustration by John Tenniel for "The Nursery Alice" (1890). Image in public domain.

BLOG— Down the rabbit hole

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My days have been busy at the News. The sense of absorption — disappearing down the rabbit hole of work — is familiar. There’s something pleasant in getting lost this way, but something disturbing, too. “It’s a beautiful day,” my husband said on Sunday. I lifted my head from the computer, turned an unfocused gaze to the window and said, “Oh.”

But it was a beautiful day. Fall’s really here. We woke up to a cold house on Saturday and built our first fire. I kept checking to see if our dog had found his way behind the stove. I love seeing the loll of fur back there — and feeling the warmth he brings back here, to the couch. He’s a hairy hot water bottle, a gift on chilly days.

I try to write poems in the early morning, before distraction needles in. But sometimes I wake up distracted. Coffee brewed, candle lit, I sit and wait for some poetic notion to stir, stretch and stroll. It may just be a word, but if it’s any good, it’s like the magic Open Sesame murmured to the willing door. Distraction drives away the notion, who is, of course, a drifter — a little seedy, a touch disreputable, but ripe with life and color. Distraction is the crowd the drifter melts right into. Or distraction is the army that clears the plaza so that even the pigeons take their crumbs and leave. But…well, you never know. Sometimes, in an empty square of moonlight, a stranger appears.

“Did you see what’s on the table?” my husband asked on Saturday afternoon. “Um?” I said, and turned around. He’d been to the market and brought home the last of Zen Blossoms’ little flower bundles and one of Michael Jones’ dahlias. Talk about poetic notions! The dahlia was — as I write this, still is — more perfect than a poem can hope to be. Impossibly huge and spiky, a yellow-centered orange burst of flame-tongued sun. I’ll miss the market flowers this winter. The whole sweep, from larkspur in the late spring to the last of the zinnias now, is done.

The dahlia was a reminder — subtle as a flame torch, but how much more beautiful! — to pay attention. It’s so easy not to do. When I reach the point where I don’t know if I’ve said something or merely thought it, gone to the store to buy beans or just reminded myself that I need to — that’s when sanity and self-preservation (sometimes in my husband’s voice) finally, firmly say: Hey, take a walk!

So on Saturday I did. It was evening, and still raining, and raw. The cows along Polecat Road didn’t seem to mind. A few stared at me in that marvelously neutral way of theirs, neither curious nor incurious, but most just kept on cropping grass. Their coats were roughed-up by the rain; some of their fur was in points, and that reminded me of being a kid and sculpting my soapy hair into spikes in the bath. Funny that memory — the past — should be the fruit of paying attention in the here and now.

I tried to leave distraction behind as I walked, but I didn’t do very well. My legs were pumping at a rate that suggested the Rabbit’s “I’m late, I’m late!” more than the dreamy, psychedelically mellowed Caterpillar. Every time I noticed how fast I was going, I slowed down. That’s all you can really do: notice, and let your grip go. Notice, and let your grip go. The patterns and colors of the leaves helped, and the plash of rain, and the fact that my feet were soaked. It was fun to be a kid again, not caring that I was, quite possibly, ruining my leather boots.

But my boots are fine, and I’m learning what I’ve been learning for 41 years. The Spanish poet Antonio Machado said it best, I think: “Beyond living and dreaming / there is something more important: / waking up.”


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