just keep swimming
Creatively, I feel the way my park looks: dying, drying up, out of time. When you enter Mellon Park’s Walled Garden from the northwest, you walk up a slight ramp, a railing along the right. My tree, a weeping Eastern white pine, lives in the nook here, but before you see that tree, you see the flowers that line the wall opposite. Today, they are dead. Their stems look the way I feel: beat down, battered, ready for the hour of lead.
It is mid-November. Autumn still has another month, but we are already through its start, when the leaves are beautiful, the sweater weather is perfect, and the harvest fills the air with fruition, with promise, with celebration. That autumn has given way to these dead leaves, this exhaustion, those waiting days until winter drops its benumbing blanket of snow. I have been waiting for the snow, too, not for the snow itself, but for what it marks: the end of my semester, the start of my holiday break from both work and school, a few weeks to myself, to regenerate, to recover, to reenergize.
Even my tree looks depleted. Its needles, normally a bright bluish green, look almost yellow. They hang limply on the branches, as if they too have been beaten down by one too many finals, one too many thesis pages, one too many discussion boards. The top floof of branches is thinned out; it looks almost like a head on a neck jerked back in shock at just how tired it has become. I know the feeling — I’ve had a stiff neck myself for a week, which is usually my body’s way of saying De-stress, you fool! De-stress! I seldom listen.
Because I am so exhausted, I am also worried about having enough steam to power through these last few weeks of the semester. I’ve fretted about this blog for a week — what can I say? What else do I have left in me? I’ve already covered so much this semester — connection to nature, grief, loneliness, disappointment, lack of inspiration — what else is there? I am praying that something happens today: a squirrel attack would be nice. It would give me something to write about, certainly! But there are no squirrels here. There are no birds. There are no people. Though I know there is probably life I cannot see, the park feels completely lifeless, a tundra half-frozen. What on Earth can I write about?
As I scour the surroundings for something to pique my muse, my eyes fall upon two faces I have not yet seen. They are stone. I am sure architecture has an official term for them, though I don’t know what it is. They’re decorations along the wall, like some sort of gargoyle, perhaps, and the first one I see looks terrified or perhaps sad. Her eyes are wide, her mouth drawn back, her brows raised. She looks, I imagine, like I feel, and I wonder what she sees that’s so frightful or, perhaps, so sad.
A few feet to her right is another face. I see it in profile first, and it’s terrifying. At one point, I imagine she was smiling happily, but now her nose has fallen off. She is the Sphinx of Pittsburgh. Her missing nose twists her face into a malicious grin, a rictus plastered across an old woman’s lined face and bagged eyes. She reminds me of a remnant from Halloween, a crone, a witch, and I wonder what the original sculptors thought as they shaped her wrinkles, when they gave her a maiden for a companion. I look for a mother, to complete the triple goddess, but she is nowhere. Perhaps she is Demeter, already retreated to mourn the temporary loss of her daughter.
As I leave the park, Nature has already dropped a blanket on the ground, though this one is made of yellowed leaves rather than white snow. I find something appealing about the dead-leaf afghan, and I take a few pictures. When I get home, I will browse the Internet to see if I can find a way to make a repeatable image from the photographs — these leaves would make a great wallpaper for a nature blog site.
At home, as I mull over the photographs I’ve taken and I continue to fret about a single, overarching topic that threads throughout them, some sort of universal concept I can use to write an insightful, evocative blog post, I remember an oft-told piece of advice given to writers: Just write! Write every day. Write about anything. Even if you have nothing to say, write. Those beaten down flowers, my bedraggled tree, all the squirrels and the birds and the bugs — they’re doing this right now, I think. They’re existing, they’re waiting, they’re just living until the snows come and melt and life becomes less tired, less cold, less exhausted. I suppose that’s what I’ve done here — I’ve just written, just to get through, and perhaps something good has come from it. Perhaps not. Either way, something has come from it, and right now, during these waiting months, that is enough.