Sunday, July 7, 2013

the shifting of fisherman’s island

Walking through the field alongside the river I suddenly looked straight down and became caught up in a little square of grass where I saw more life than I could possibly imagine. I realized all that was there or that must be there, all that could be seen and not seen. The wildflowers and grass, all the vegetation tall and short and compact and leggy and budding and dieing. The insects and microscopic beings and worms and earth and history. The layers of life and death, existence and space, all at my feet. I wondered about the stories embedded in this small patch, and I realized my presence was the least of it, that I was no more than a speck of dust easily flicked away, and if flicked away the grander story would remain and whatever story was to come would come.

I was in the field that morning a few weeks ago because the day had dawned at about 32 degrees and the mosquitoes were lulled, so I walked down by the river to get a picture of Fisherman’s Island to go along with the writing I wanted to do on the shifting of the island. So a sharp, sunny morning with only a few hardy skeeters. A camera. Perfect.

Fisherman’s Island 2012.

A rush of snowmelt this spring lifted the river to great heights, and Fisherman’s Island has shifted, has moved, one could even say has disappeared. The island is now a large, sandy beach on the river’s south bank. Perhaps the island did not move so much as grow as the waterway between it and the land filled with sand. However you look at it, not much has really changed, but by definition all is changed. The island remains, but the island is history.

Fisherman’s Island 2013.

I walked along the river’s wooded steep bank and noticed some birch trees that seemed melded into one another. The outer birch, the one closest to me, had a trunk and roots that wrapped around the trunks and roots of others, as if hugging them in an effort to hold on. So many trees do this, growing around and through and into obstacles, clinging to banks and rocks and other trees, the other trees and obstacles then becoming part of the tree’s foundation, part of what keeps it in place, part of what keeps it alive, part of what bends and shapes it even as the tree leans away, searching for a patch of light.

Birch trees on a slope.

Earlier this week I heard a story on NPR about gravity, Falling: How To Meet Einstein In An Elevator, by Adam Frank. It has stuck in my mind because it took something we all experience and think we know about and made it something else—for me, anyway. I recommend the whole story, but here’s the gist.
Gravity, Einstein saw, is what happens when you take away forces and let things go with the flow — the flow of space. Cut the cables on your elevator and what happens (other than a lot of yelling and panic)? Inside, everything appears to go weightless. During the fall you’d float like an astronaut in a space capsule.

That was how Einstein realized that apples don’t fall because of forces; they fall because that is what space wants them to do. Gravity is space bending and stretching like taffy. Even though you can never touch space you can see it has a shape just by watching how things fall.

After the morning rain.

It’s that time of year when I think of the trip I made nine years ago that moved me from a life I thought I knew well to a life I knew nothing about. And now the funny thing is I don’t think I knew that other life at all. I navigated through and held onto it because it was my life. Then, something shifted.