Skunk Cabbage, by Mary Oliver
And now as the iron rinds over
the ponds start dissolving,
you come, dreaming of ferns and flowers
and new leaves unfolding,
upon the brash
turnip-hearted skunk cabbage
slinging its bunched leaves up
through the chilly mud.
You kneel beside it. The smell
is lurid and flows out in the most
unabashed way, attracting
into itself, a continual spattering
of protein. Appalling its rough
green caves, and the thought
of the thick root nested below, stubborn
and powerful as instinct!
But these are the woods you love,
where the secret name
of every death is life again–a miracle
wrote surely not of mere turning
but of dense and scalding reenactment. Not
tenderness, not longing, but daring and brawn
pull down the frozen waterfall, the past.
Ferns, leaves, flowers, the last subtle
refinements, elegant and easeful, wait
to rise and flourish.
What blazes the trail is not necessarily pretty.
Not necessarily pretty. What blazes the trail is not necessarily pretty.
I opened to this poem this morning, after a dream filled with skunks, and knew it was not by accident. I’ve been revisiting this feeling of living in between, caught between knowing where I want to be and being where I want to be, unsure of how to get there, but walking nonetheless. The other day in conversation with Edge, I said aloud, “We didn’t choose this life because it is easy,” more as a reminder to myself than to him, and he smiled and agreed.
And now this morning I open to this poem, one I have never read before though it has sat on my shelves for years, and I know there is a reason I am only discovering it now.
What blazes the trail is not necessarily pretty. I have visions of a house, of ponds and perennial gardens, of finished buildings and hoop houses, of established gardens and lush pastures, of ease and profit in our business.
We did not choose this life because it is easy. For every moment spent dreaming, there are two spent planning, five spent doing, maybe one spent stressing. I am doing my best to stop stressing. When the pipe bringing water to the yurt freezes, when the driveway slicks over with ice, when the chickens stop laying, and the woodpile diminishes too soon, and I wish for an indoor toilet, I get to a point of breaking down or breathing in. I prefer to breathe in. Sometimes I forget. But eventually I remember my own words: if I am a seed, all I have to do is know every possibility is inside me. The life that is easy is not necessarily the one that brings me alive.
If I had an indoor toilet, how many sunrises kissing the ridge line would I miss?
What blazes the trail is not necessarily pretty, but like a pond lily beauty grows out of the muck. Any good farmer knows that compost started out as shit, and so I move forward today, remembering the work of turning the compost pile, the work that must come before the seed, the work that nourishes and transforms the seed into the flower.