(Becoming a Naturalist, Part 27)
By Jack Phillips
A naturalist bemused in March. (Photo by Robert Smith.)
How many ova have I swallowed? Who knows what will be hatched within me? There were some seeds of thought, methinks, floating in that water, which are expanding within me. The man must not drink of the running streams, the living waters, who is not prepared to have all of nature reborn in him, — to suckle monsters. (Thoreau, Journal, August 17th, 1851.)
A month ago we walked on this pond, waters above and waters under our feet. The cold sky was an eyelid and the pond, a frozen eyeball. Horizons on every side were made round by my pupils and the year made round by ova and bone. The planet pulls the skin of dawn, noon, moon in turning and with it, the conceptions and consumptions of this pond.
On that February retreat we wanted to see birds and write poems and read the lines written in snow. The days burned short and our hearts burned long as the lost of this world, sinking with the sun. Orion chased Pisces across the southern sky. Coyote songs and fingered wings of buff and leather (and owls) made sleepless nights wilder. But mid-winter days fatten little by little, the yolk of the year growing, walks getting longer, almost out of firewood and let’s have another cup of coffee.
Now it is abruptly March, a time of rot, reek, rills of leftover juices glad now for the sun, melted chagrins laid bare. I walk with my friends along the pond: suck and mud, wet knees, extra pair of boots in the truck. In two weeks maybe three by slither, slink, skin on skin, earth will be redeemed. Green water will borrow moonlight for jellies and ribbons of jewels and our eyes, vernal mornings to find our faces there.
Soon, overwintered tadpoles will graze pondweed somehow still green. Soon, so very soon I can feel it, the waxing moon will draw up deep turtles, gravid as they are. When the first frog jumps on that liquid drum, pond and wood will ring. Singing frogs will make bubbles of love, these little Hyla of chorus and cricket and gray tree frogs of course, leopards, bullfrogs, and kinds of toads three or four; maybe a new species this year. But I have bubbles of my own, gravid as I am.
Something wild grows inside me. An ovum of my animal self, an inner creature belonging to these waters is bound by the person I think I am. This pond, a creek dammed and gagged and livestocked with hatchery bass and designer bream, is the same primal sea that pools inside my cells and in every living thing. In these captive waters, ancient minnows, shiners, spirits, chubs spawn wildly still; dinosaur dragonflies deposit their progeny, aboriginal amphibians ooze out jellied eggs and clouds of sperm. Souls are born, bodies raised. My primate brain behind searching eyes reflects on the surface. Ova and orange, moon and bone orbit this eyeball-in-an-egg, this sudden moment, March.
I watch my friends bemusing themselves by the pond and in the sloppy woods above. What do they bubble and love? What eggs do they bear? When dusk comes we write in the cabin with coffee and black bean soup. Flannel and wool, feet to the fire, muddy boots stay outside. Flames dance in dark pupils as we gaze at burning elm and a little smoke makes them wet, then I get some air on the porch under a clear sky. Through the woods the pond draws slippery moonlight. Pisces has the whole sky to swim in and my soul, the whole fish.