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Polylith 003   ☷   April 02019

Circling


Hello you fellow ramblers! This letter comes to you from our garden, where delicate foliage is emerging steadily from soil and mulch and stem. The elderberry buds are about to unfold, the ramps have drilled up through the leaf litter, and yarrow fronds emerge fully formed from among last year’s cast stalks. Overhead, vultures wheel and cranes pass en route to marshy fields where they’ll sing contrapunctus to the spring peepers’ orgiastic polyphony. Spring comes to the peninsula.

Lovely to have you back. We’ll begin where we left off last month, at the center of the dizzying gyre, the slowly spinning disc that offers infinite possible passages outward, but we won’t stay there. From the center, those passages remain only possibilities, and we’re ready to move. It’s spring, after all.

No, we’ll be out here amid the iridescence, among the phasing oscillations. We’ll be circling. The posture of sentience.

Diameter

You remember the lake I crossed on skis over the winter? Last week I walked up onto a forested moraine to a ridge that overlooks the lake, and with the branches still bare, I was able to see the whole of the circular basin all at once. There was a rare northeast wind that day, and in the lee of the forest the afternoon sun felt generously warm. Bright light off the water, a shimmering, shifting crystal carapace obscuring the clear, cold depths of the spring-fed lake. It may be unwise to play favorites with the seasons, but early spring sure feels like the sweetest time around the lake. The vacationers, resorters, snowbirds (and other species of tourist) haven’t arrived in numbers, the powerboats remain mercifully shrouded and dry, the docks are stacked neatly like rafted ice, and the lake can enjoy a quiet awakening from winter. In early spring, those of us who have made our homes nearby (humans, herons, red cedar, white birch, et al) are able to spend a few quiet weeks with this neighbor lake.

It bears saying:
Such could be the whole year, everywhere, if the flighty among us kept their feet on the ground, found home, and stuck around. That’s an invitation! (To be clear, I’m not talking about migration here, I’m talking about vacation. When we migrate, we carry home with us, when we vacate, well, we vacate.)

From up on the moraine overlooking the lake, I could clearly see the start and end point of my winter passage on skis, from county park to still-shuttered marina; I could trace the hour-long line across the lake’s diameter in just a few seconds with my eyes. In the warm months, the eyes are the only part of us that can draw a straight line over the land and water. If I were to cross the lake in a kayak, say, the best I could manage would be a wavy, meandering approximation of the relatively straight line I traced on skis. In the warm months, we’re called and obliged to circle.

A black and white photograph of two bunches of dunegrass growing in smooth sand. The blades have traced out a series of parallel arcs in the sand, forming the better part of two overlapping circles. The sun casts dark looping shadows of the grass which intersect the arcs.

Circumference

We find circles in the land and follow their circumference. It’s as simple as that. And when we find an interesting spot that isn’t already round, we make our own circle around it, describe a new circle with this spot at its center. We can hardly help it.

When we do this, we circle not as a predator around prey, but as a pilgrim, who has arrived. Circling is a steady state. We circle to familiarize, to behold, to see from all the angles – the straightforward ones, the fleetingly revealing ones, the beguiling, ambiguous ones, and even the ones that call into question our understanding of what we’re looking at. (Maybe the predator does just this, as well.) Our circumambulation is at once an illumination and a description of a shape from the imagination; a transcription of this shape onto the ground through the feet. This is one way a spot becomes a sacred site, or a neighbor lake, as the case may be.

Circling the lake via the county roads (by bicycle, say, on a still spring afternoon), we glimpse the water and the surrounding hills at varying intervals around houses, among trees, and from between the hills themselves. We glimpse these familiar forms perhaps like the body of a friend dancing among others in a crowd. Indeed, we behold the land (and water) just like we do a fellow human body, with familiarity, curiosity, recognition – and all the same emotions can follow: love, obsession, basking, the desire to affect change, jealousy, fear of loss. The circle is an embrace.

And thus circling brings attunement. If we alter our perspective slightly, look at the lake a bit obliquely (and steady ourselves for another metaphor), we can see the deep sandy dish of the lake as a great mineral bowl, and if we run a finger around its quartz rim, around the shore, and persist until the vibration of the body matches the vibration of the vessel, we’ll hear that attunement manifest audibly – beginning at the perimeter where mineral meets skin (meets the water body) and moving inward until it reaches the still center. Resonance. We can stick with it until it vanishes, and promise to return.


Well, I’m very much enjoying the rhythm of writing to you all each month. Thank you for reading! I could dance alone, so to speak (we all do it), but dancing with friends is something else entirely. If you think of a friend who would enjoy reading these letters, I’d be ever so grateful if you shared Polylith with them. Until next month, happy circling!