“And the world is on its side” (Dylan)


There are days, weeks, when the world seems porous to me. Open. Everything enters everything else. I don’t know quite how to put it. This morning, sitting with coffee on the upper deck after our swim, I watched the bees in the Origanum majorana we have everywhere because I never cut off the flower heads once they’ve gone to seed. It’s growing up on the deck in several potted roses and the bees love it. There must have been a couple of dozen, working in what must be an orderly way though it looks anything but. I don’t know enough about bees. We have houses for mason bees– they’re around in May and early June– and I know that there are honeybees too. But the genus Bombus is one I’m going to have to pay more attention to. When I look at the charts, I recognize a few. Bombus vosnesenskii, yes, I think that’s one I see often. And the Black tailed bumble bee – Bombus melanopygus ​– is another I recognize. Anyway, I watched them and it was one of those moments when the work of the bees, the work of the herbs to attract them, my own work to keep plants alive and thriving, doing this in spite of the heat of this summer, all felt suffused with the other. While we were watching the bees, a skimmer alighted on a tall stick supporting a tomatillo. I wonder if that’s the same one that was here last week, asked John. Was it? Again, I don’t know enough. But it stayed in place, or at least it flew away once or twice but almost immediately returned, for at least an hour, poised in the morning sunlight.

Ring them bells from the sanctuaries cross the valleys and streams
For they’re deep and they’re wide
And the world is on its side
And time is running backwards

If you were young in the 1960s and 1970s, you might recognize those lines as Bob Dylan’s. I heard “Ring Them Bells” play this afternoon and almost wept. I go through my days, living them as completely as I can, but so much is happening in the world (on its side) that I feel helpless to understand or comment on. I was awake in the night, working on a long essay about John’s autumn surgery and how that went sideways but also acquainted me — us — with a grammar and a set of instructions I hadn’t expected. He hadn’t expected them either. We learned things: about hospitals, about pain, about resiliency, about patience; and we learned them both alone and together. In many ways we are so lucky. We feel that daily, no question. We have space, enough money to live the life we do, we have a family we love, work we care about. It’s one thing to know this and another to wake in the dark, find my way down to my desk, open the file that takes me completely into those weeks, those months, of preparation, surgery, recovery, and to know again the fear and loneliness of unfamiliar rooms, of diagnoses, treatments, appointments, re-admissions to hospitals after one thing or another went wrong (sideways), more tests, disagreements between medical staff about severity of test results and how to proceed. It would be easier not to write this at all but having begun, I feel obliged to continue. Time runs backwards at night. In its flow I return to the waiting for information, for the walk from where I stayed to the hospital where everyone was masked, where we hoped we could cope with whatever we needed to go forward, and mostly we have, and where there was a great consolation of finches in the maples beyond the room where I sat with the quilts I was making while I waited for news.

The world feels porous. It feels unbearably vulnerable right now. Fires, assassinations, new strains of the Covid virus, the uncertainty of what the future will bring to all of us. I am awake most mornings around 6:30 and I come downstairs, open the doors to see if I can smell smoke. Our Douglas firs are shedding their needles at an alarming rate. They can tolerate drought but the heat is something else. While it’s still cool, I go outside and try to take a measure of the day. Late season birdsong, the last gasp really, sometimes rustling in the woods that could be deer or elk, a bit of breeze that brings more fir needles to the ground where John will rake them up later to keep tinder from the perimeter of our house.

I’m porous. The scent of fir needles, bees in the oregano, the single swallow skimming the lake as I swam this morning, a little frog climbing out the grass clippings on top of the compost when I opened the box yesterday morning — I take them in and in and in. I think I know deep down, at bedrock, that this is the electricity of being alive and I’m grateful for all of it. The young woman who reminds me I was once her stops me at times to say, Remember what you love, remember everything. That young woman loved Dylan too. She sang at the top of her voice whenever she imagined she was alone. This is her right now, singing.

May your hands always be busy
May your feet always be swift
May you have a strong foundation
When the winds of changes shift
May your heart always be joyful
May your song always be sung
And may you stay forever young

4 thoughts on ““And the world is on its side” (Dylan)”

  1. What Juliet said. Thank you as always, Theresa, for bring beauty to us your readers on a regular basis – just like that, here on the little screen, such fine words and thoughts given freely as a gift. Appreciated and savoured.

    “The electricity of being alive.”

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