The Nothing That Is

The breath of the world

For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.
Wallace Stevens

Long leaf pine bark is a patchwork quilt of overlapping grays, reds, browns, flaking to leave bluish tinged valleys between them. It reminds me of the canyon country of the Colorado plateau, a miniature world of mesas and canyons turned on its side and drizzled with rivers of sap.

Some of the same forces of wind and water are at work on the pine as they are in the canyons of Utah and Colorado. An echo of the endless in the finite.

The sound is the same. The rush of pine needles catching the wind. From damp maritime forests to box canyons in the southwest, the under story may change from palmettos to red-barked manzanita, but the over story remains the same. The pines are always singing.

The breath of the world. Air rushing from one place to another, a force we can only see the effect of, never the thing itself. The nothing that is.

On cool nights I leave the windows open to hear the wind. When we lived in a house I would sleep on the couch on windy nights. Only a few of our windows opened, the best was right next to the couch. I propped it open with a dowel and would fall asleep to puffs of wind on my face.

Before dawn, before the birds are up, there is only the sea and the wind. I lay awake in the 5 AM darkness, listening to the pines softly roar. The low music of the pines is joined by the dry rattle of oak leaves, the snap of a towel left out to dry over night. The wind like fingers tracing over the land, feeling their way through our small slice of the world.

I think of going out into it. It is warm under the covers, but I always think of Marcus Aurelius, “what do I have to complain of, if I’m going to do what I was born for — the things I was brought into the world to do? Or is this what I was created for? To huddle under the blankets and stay warm?” I get up.

Outside there is already a pink and yellow glow on the horizon. The wind comes in gusts, swaying pines, rattling oaks. I stand facing east, watching the sun. Just before dawn the wind dies down, the temperature drops noticeably, as if the world draws in a deep breath and holds. And then there is light.


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