In truth the forest hears each sound Each blade of grass as it lies down.
The world requires no audience, No witnesses, no witnesses..
~Conor Oberst, from “I Must Belong Somewhere”
I walk across the top of an earthen dam. To my right is a lake, carved from the carboniferous remains of two hundred million year old forests. To my left, and below (I am higher than the treetops there), there is a green field of coastal grass, surrounded by woods of native pecan, oak, hemlock, and various evergreens. Half a mile ahead, there is a shale hill, a once lush swampland on the shoreline of an ancient ocean.
Grasshoppers and mayflies crisscross my path. Some land on me, others nearby, and all are only momentarily distracted by my presence past them. The occasional black swallowtail butterfly lands briefly on a sunflower or coneflower, then is gone, to another, and another, and away.
A fish jumps from the water. I hear it, but only see the rings of water where it was. The woods below are filled with the July chorus of cicadas, by the thousands. Doves, somewhere, call to each other. And the clicking of the grasshoppers is ever present.
I am irrelevant to the great, furious, and quiet bursting-forth of life all around me. I am irrelevant to all of it, but I am in love with all of it. I am irrelevant to all of it yet, at the same time, I am loved, too.
I am attracted to this place; just as the mayflies are, and exactly as the evergreens. The yellow sunflower sirens beckon me; the same sun-yellow that calls the butterflies to their pollen-filled centers calls me to their random, scattered beauty. I rise like the trees, without thought, without intentionality, to the noonday light which encompasses us (all of us) and nurtures us (all of us). My seventy/eighty years on this planet and the twenty-four hour life spans of the mayflies on this shore pale in their dissimilarities against the rock forms of sixty-five million year old ammonites and coral and clams beneath us all in the shale formations.
I am a witness here, and nothing more. I am able to overhear and see bits of the world in this place, for a little while, and nothing less.
The allure, the calling to me of the grasses, trees, insects, and flowers is the same seductive attraction with which all things call to others of their kind and to that which enhances their life symbiotically. The same magenta which calls the swallowtail butterflies to the coneflower, calls me to kneel down beside it and imagine its photosynthetic singing. The same breeze which guides the grasshoppers to succulent bluegrass stems, guides me to watch their clicking flight. The same black rich earth which absorbed the hard shell of pecan seeds and fed the tiny green germ within, is the same earth which caused men and women crossing these prairies to stop here, build here, plant here, and raise their children here. The earth here called them, attracted them, loved them.
And now, I am here, too.
I am here, too, and in love with and loved by that which I cannot embrace with my arms. I cannot kiss it on the cheek, squeeze its hand, or whisper anything that could be understood as exclamations of my devotion. I can only feel the sweet but benign acceptance of my witness. I can only lose myself in the green glorious seas of grass and trees and in the tiny waves of other living things washing through them. I can only imagine telling them that my words are wholly inadequate to describe their sensuality and their beauty.
“I love you,” I say to them, anyway.
And I hear them in return and I smile.