As we drove out of the ranch to go into town the other day, we noticed a man with wind-tousled white hair standing on the bluff facing the sea and playing a shiny brass trumpet. He wore a pullover sweater…for some reason I imagined it was cashmere…and had driven there in a little red Mercedes that was parked nearby. Afterwards, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. What did it mean? Elegy? Celebration? Loneliness? Defiance? An expression of wonder? A simple impulse to pull over and play a trumpet? It’s another one of those questions that must remain unanswered, but the glimpse was its own little gift.
The springtime winds have been roaring for days, a constant combing of the grass that even now is rippling, with occasional bursts that bang against obstacles and snap brittle branches from trees. From where I sit I can see clouds sailing by with impressive momentum, a pair of hawks coasting in currents of air, shrubs and flowers quivering. Everything is bright and noisy and in motion.
Meanwhile a solitary bull has been wandering around in the tall grasses nearby, befuddled and irritated, calling out for his missing companions and vocalizing his general complaints. He’s as massive as a wall but pitiable somehow, and chronically out of sorts.
I listened to an “On Being” podcast interview with poet-philosopher David Whyte this week while walking through the windy canyon, and many things he talked about were of interest to me. For example, he said that when he was in deeply attentive states as a biologist working in the Galapagos observing animals, birds, and landscapes, he began to realize that his identity depended not upon any inherited or manufactured beliefs he held, but rather on how much attention he was paying to things that were other than himself.
“As you deepen this intentionality and this attention,” he said, “you start to broaden and deepen your own sense of presence, and I began to realize that the only place where things were actually real was at this frontier between what you think is you and what you think is not you. That whatever you desire of the world will not come to pass exactly as you will like it. But the other mercy is that whatever the world desires of you will also not come to pass. And what actually occurs is this meeting, this frontier. But it’s astonishing how much time human beings spend away from that frontier, abstracting themselves out of their bodies, out of their direct experience, and out of a deeper, broader, and wider possible future that’s waiting for them if they hold the conversation at that frontier level.”
I’ve been thinking about this a lot because I’m pretty guilty of “abstracting” myself out of my body and out of my direct experience of the world, constantly attempting to interpret and resolve, which is a form of disconnection from life as it happens. But how does one arrive at that place where what you think is you and what you think is not you meets and melds? How does one inhabit that in-between space?
I guess we start by looking out and noticing. Monte and I went to a carwash-gas station in Goleta as part of our trip to town, and while my compulsive husband vacuumed the interior of my car– “This is because you EAT in the car!!!”–I observed that even there in that ugly zone of machinery, concrete, dumpsters and freeways, a row of trees had been planted along a fence, and they were thriving. The leaves on those trees were glossy green and dancing, and there were scraggly yellow blossoms, and a bee was buzzing around the blossoms, and there was so much movement and life right there.
And somebody was standing on a bluff playing a trumpet. Maybe that is all we need to know.