Winter beach wisdom

Grey beach with cobbles in foregrowns and lowered clouds over mountains

February. A grey white month. More light but still cold. The forecast is for two weeks of snow showers. A month that still belongs to winter though the light lingers later now, long slow sunrises and sunsets when the clouds relent.

Today, a walk along the beach because it was a balmy 28 degrees. And that isn’t me being funny, 28 degrees feels quite warm indeed when the winter has been one of slashing winds and single digits. Bishop’s Beach is an active beach, windrows of cobbles shifting and reforming, great tidal changes, snow and ice at the top, waves at the bottom.

I walked mostly at the highest tide line because closer to the water’s edge would have meant crossing deep channels. But walking closer to the bluffs means cobbles which slide and clatter. Twist underfoot and crimp an ankle. Slide down toward the water almost as efficiently as ice so that one finds oneself scrambling to stay on stable footing.

I actually enjoy this kind of walking because it forces one to stay in the moment. If you’re walking with someone else, it forestalls any prolonged conversations. But the sheer kinetic effort allows me to focus on the here and now.

Today’s question: Is wisdom becoming more open or more discerning? Or put another way, does wisdom follow from opening the aperture wider or narrowing the focus? Or put another way entirely, who cares about wisdom?

I only know that some part of me wishes to be more open. It is the thing I admire about Jane Hirshfield’s work – the permeability of the speaker in her poems. The way that her work does not delineate between the world and the speaker, for the speaker is at all times interpenetrated by the world, is the world.

Here is one of my favorite Jane Hirshfield poems from her magnificent collection Come Thief.

The Supple Deer

The quiet opening
between fence strands
perhaps eighteen inches.

Antlers to hind hooves,
four feet off the ground,
the deer poured through.

No tuft of the coarse white belly hair left behind.

I don’t know how a stag turns
into a stream, an arc of water.
I have never felt such accurate envy.

Not of the deer:

To be that porous, to have such largeness pass through me.

~ Jane Hirshfield

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