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I sit outside in the morning and listen.  Close by, birds jump between branches and fly from tree to tree, gliding, dipping and rising in the open space between the sugar-woods and white pines in this small protected clearing where we live.  They all sing: tweeting, chirping, whistling.  Birdsong flies around me, gentle and alive, calling me to this day.  I remember the bobolink I saw in the field yesterday, and the bright yellow bird with black wings, and I almost stand to get my bird book so I can learn its name.  But I don’t.  I stay sitting outside, watching the birds here right now, wondering if I even know the bobolink, wondering if naming something actually brings knowledge, wondering if knowledge without experience is worth anything at all.

***

I have a friend, Kathy, who told me the story of her daughter’s birth.  After two days of intermittent contractions, an exhausting night, and the final push, a baby lay on her chest, and Kathy and her husband looked at the child in awe.  After a few moments, someone said, “would you like to know the sex of your baby?”  And they learned they had a daughter.  But imagine those moments before—those moments of knowing another being so intimately, of knowing another being out of raw experience, of knowing another being without naming it, and therefore knowing it purely, void of expectations and assumptions, knowing it purely and letting yourself be known as well.

***

“People think that when they turn their eyes from the earth to the sky they see the heavens.  They set the orange fruit apart from the green leaves and say they know the green of the leaves and the orange of the fruit.  But from the instant one makes a distinction between green and orange, the true color vanishes,” writes Masanobu Fukuoka in One Straw Revolution.  He goes on to say, “People think they understand things because they become familiar with them.  This is only superficial knowledge.  It is the knowledge of the astronomer who knows the names of the stars, the botanist who knows the classification of the leaves and flowers, the artist who knows the aesthetics of green and red.  This is not to know nature itself—the earth and sky, green and red.  Astronomer, botanist, and artist have done no more than grasp impressions and interpret them, each within the vault of his own mind.  The more involved they become with the activity of the intellect, the more they set themselves apart and the more difficult it becomes to live naturally.”

 ***

In college writing classes I learned that it is the job of the writer to put into words the things that are impossible to describe.  As a writer, I must always reach further into expression until I find that one combination that elicits an unnamable feeling.  I love this challenge.  I love the way words can bend or stay strong.  I love how the subtraction or addition of a single word can change the meaning of a sentence.  The most amazing thing, though, is how the most powerful part of a written piece is often what is left out— not written, not described, not named at all.

***

I sit outside in the morning and listen, surrendering my desire to know.  I watch the birds fly from tree to tree and see how the branches bow so slightly to catch them, how the play of the breeze moves along their wings, how the sun exposes the color of their feathers, and how the dappled shadows of leaves hide them.  I sit outside, anchored to the ground, a maple tree behind me, a field of buttercups, dandelion, clover, fleabane, and grasses before me, all of which have been named, none of which can be known singularly, for they grow together in a shared landscape, and I am here, too, unraveling the knowledge of twenty-five years so I may know this one moment here and now.