Yesterday I was in the dining room with a copy of Middlemarch sprawled open on a table, staring out the window. My daughter was asleep. Finally a moment to myself. Outside, in the front yard, a large tree, a majestic Chinese Elm, more than 40-years old, shivered in the wind. Although the weather was gray and drear, I was indescribably happy, so happy I couldn’t read. I could only stare and smile. If it’s true that “A poet is someone who thinks about something else,” then I was an abstracted poet, indeed. I had gone elsewhere entire. Pangs of happiness are intense but fleeting. I’ve had them before; they cluster around simple dear necessities: hiking in remote places, eating and drinking good food, watching my kids do perfectly kid-worthy things and reading, always reading. How many times have I slammed a book shut from happiness! On the inadequacy of words, I’m reminded, paradoxically enough, of this passage: “…he felt close to the sort of secrets he often caught himself wondering about, the revelations of which he only ever realized he had been in the proximity, and the phenomenon of becoming conscious, was the very thing that whisked him away, so that any bit of insight or gleaning was available only in retrospect, as a sort of afterglow that remained but that was not accessible through words.”
Postscript. Incidentally, the Chinese Elm is also known as the Lacebark Elm, presumably because its bark sheds in long strips with often intriguing designs. My son, 3, ever the searcher of tasty metaphors, simply calls the bark “bacon” and collects it as though he were a stone-age hunter and gatherer. Behind a smile, he gnaws on it and says “bacon” again, just in case I’ve forgotten.