Saturday, November 29, 2014
The Old Growth Bowdoin Pine
Draw Antonio, draw, and do not waste time.
This is what Michelangelo wrote to his assistant before he died.
Walking amongst the Bowdoin Pines, I found the remnant of a goose beak; a coyote must have finished it off. And then a few yards beyond, an old growth pine, prodigious and solemn. How many secrets did it have? Had its young needles brushed the hem of Hawthorne's coat as he walked these woods as a young man? Here's a sad thing: some ten essay ideas (or more) huddle about me like moths to a porch light and I don't have the wherewithal to write them. There are meals to cook, diapers to change, dishes and clothes to wash. The latest came fluttering while walking amongst the Bowdoin Pines: Survivor vs. Victim. What are the characteristics of a survivor? What are the characteristics of a victim? Survivors take their blows and chalk them up to life experience. They are resourceful--every situation has something to teach them. They hunger for life; they probe its depths, reinvent themselves, come out both arms swinging. Artists are survivors who revere beauty; they seek an image's secrets, like those of the old growth Bowdoin pine. Dillard says in The Writing Life:
Who but an artist fierce to know...would suppose that a live image possessed a secret? The artist is willing to give all his strength and life to probing with blunt instruments those sane secrets no one can describe in any way but with those instrument's faint tracks. It's the writer who wrestles with the alligators of language to portray hidden, mythical meanings and help illuminate so we may "feel again the mystery and power."
But I digress.
Write, Laurette, write.
Victims are beggars not choosers. They beg life for opportunities and whine hopelessly when life does not deliver. We're all survivors and victims to some extent, but we should revere the aim of the survivor. We should see ourselves as survivors.
Survivors have confidence in their abilities. They remember their successes and build upon them. They call forth ingenuity and reap its rewards. Survivors see life as "happening" not "happening to them"; they're a faithful lot and know their bearings. They know the nearest safe harbor.
Victims see every land-ho as a shipwreck. They think of all the shipwrecks of yesteryear, the flotsam and jetsam of spilled life bobbing in the waves never leaves them.
"No victim" is my new motto.
People left gifts for the old growth Bowdoin pine; it was perhaps the greatest one there, the elder, the chief, the survivor of all survivors. There were dried flowers, feathers, and small notes tacked to its bark in reverence. One has to wonder just how deep its roots go, just how high its highest branch. If I were to sit at the top of the old growth Bowdoin pine, how far could I see? Could I see a ship coming to port, the letters on the underbelly of an airplane? What would it be like to leap from limb to old growth limb, leaping and landing, caught by the spindly hands and then thrown upward with a whisper-swish? I think of the majestic sway of the old growth Bowdoin pine; I think of its solidity and stillness, how I seek this stillness and solidity and rootedness in my meditation. But my mind is a flittering bird, tapping at each crumb thrown its way.
Here is a painting by Jean Kigel of a Bowdoin pine:
Kigel did paintings of the pines and exhibited them in Brunswick in 2013. Here's another:
If the first pine is ready to embrace, the second is dancing: we can recognize the emotion, the tenderness, the finesse in stillness. They are rugged and fierce, the characteristics of a survivor, but they are not stoic or stolid. Is this not how we should all be?