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Snow on St. Patrick's Day (Photo by Audrey Hackett)

Klonk! Daffodils in the snow on St. Patrick's Day in an Elm Street yard. (Photo by Audrey Hackett)

BLOG— Spring, and the tiny shift

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Like a debt that hasn’t quite been paid off, winter returned last week, revoking the easy money of an early spring. The crocuses looked underdressed for the weather — shivering in the wrong fabric and too little of it. The daffodils simply keeled over. Klonk! Yellow heads hit the earth in mock or real dismay.

And just like that, our dog started gnawing his paw. Weather-related or not, the development was troubling. He’s a fickle walker under the best of circumstances; factor in cold roads and an ailing paw, and walking might as well be flying: an impossible dream. First he chewed the bottom of his paw, raising a ridged pink welt, then he switched sides and licked a bald spot onto the top of his paw, between his first and second toes.

“Heeeey, Skyler. Heeeey Skyler,” I took to saying softly. “Let your paw heal.”

He regarded me with that look peculiar to dogs — part curiosity (is there a treat involved?), part comprehension, part bafflement. But in which proportion? Amazingly, with gentle yet pointed repetition of the phrase, comprehension seemed to prevail. It helped that I eased his paw into an old sock, again and again, to make my point. “Heeeey, Skyler,” I said, returning the grey paw to the grey sock yet again. “Let your paw heal.”

The phrase, as phrases will, both lost and gained meaning in recitation. The words became un-words, or maybe ur-words, from which all possible sentences might flower or flow. But they also accumulated an applicability, and an authority, I’m quite sure they didn’t deserve. Yet so it was: everything I could think of suddenly shimmered with the wisdom of that phrase!

“Let your paw heal.” In any life, there are things that require healing. Often this healing happens in secret, the way winter turns into spring (and sometimes back again). And often it happens when we least expect it, when we’ve relaxed our grip on needing it to happen. When we’ve finally “let it heal.”

Is it strange to counsel an end to effort? It’s old counsel, as old as the 5,000-year-old Tao Te Ching, and probably a good deal older. One passage in Stephen Mitchell’s translation of the Tao reads, “Do you have the patience to wait/till your mud settles and the water is clear?/Can you remain unmoving/till the right action arises by itself?”

I’m not very good about letting the mud settle. Like Skyler, I chew on my paw! The paw of worry, the paw of fear, the paw of shame. But I’m learning.

I used to scorn the idea of grace. Too schmaltzy, too religious. Now I humbly submit that grace is not what I thought it was — a pious hand-sitting with the smug conviction that you really deserve whatever good comes your way. Instead, it’s the tiny shift that happens inside. You can’t force it. But you can feel it. And feeling it, you can act in “the little ways that encourage good fortune,” as William Stafford says in his poem of that name.

Spring is here, can you feel it? Even on a day like today, with the molt of March drifting down, spring is here. The tiny shift. The days that tilt toward warmth … as the forsythia freezes.

Last night’s moon was a fierce white face, an owl’s face, deep in the forest of sky. Tonight there’s a snowsky — the white embrace of the owl’s wings — and tomorrow yet another sky will silently float in. The tiny shift. Can you feel it? And feeling it, can you let your paw — whatever form your own wound takes — begin to heal?


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