Maybe This is a Good Sign
I wake up early to a dark house, my head heavy, momentarily unsure of where I am. I want to go back to sleep but then I can see the light beginning over the lake, and I can’t miss it. Quiet as I can manage, I creep down the ancient stairs, and basically fall outside. I pad down the long stone walkway, to the boathouse. I sit on the far side, behind the boat, at the edge, under three spiders webs, my back against a pole. Watching. Thinking.
The biggest spider is directly above me, anxiously commanding her web in the thin morning light. Over and over again, she scrambles to its edges to wrap up a mayfly, or a gnat, or another spider. Then, as if relieved, she returns to the center to relax into her quiet, genius view of the steely lake, the charcoal mountains, the hazy sky. Just below me, water gliders make stringy wake near the dock, flirting with each other in dizzying patterns. Then, without a single warning, one strides away behind bent ripples, leaving the other behind, gliding in circles as if lost. Fish jump from the still water, surprising me, but the reward of ripples sets it right. They never stop. The water looks so inviting, but I am riveted to the stillness, not wanting to upset it. If I get it right the calmness will become me, and I will grow stronger.
I look down, and there is a hex nut. It is sun-worn and water beaten, just beside my toe. I pick it up and hold it in front of the sky. It is the same gray as the water, its perfect sides rolling between my fingers. I remember the honeybee theorem, how mathematicians struggled for centuries to discover why the honeybee chose a hexagon to house their young and their honey. It isn’t the only shape that tessellates evenly across a surface. Squares and triangles will do the same. It took quite a long time for humans to figure out that the hexagon has a smaller total perimeter than the square or the triangle. That’s why the honeybees use it, because it allows them to work simultaneously, starting at any point, and expend the least amount of honey building their comb. Of course. Nature evolves to minimize energy. I sit thinking about this, and the spider, and wonder how I evolve. I have always loved that story of bees, loving the hexagon with it.
I used to call my heart a beehive, like the poet Antonio Machado. Ever since I died there, I have thought of it as a river, or a stone in a river, that lets water rush over and around it, or pile atop it for miles and miles, in pursuit of smoothing and shaping. What does the water symbolize? Pain? Truth? Life itself? I don’t know yet. I do know that at one time it felt like whatever it was, its movement was too fast, rushing relentlessly, overtaking me, and the only thing to hold me from reeling was my heaviness. Today, whatever it is, that water within is also right in front of me, in endless stillness and ever growing ripples. Maybe this is a good sign.
How fitting that I should find a relic here. I have been starting a bit of a collection lately. The first thing was a small clay pot my son made, the second was a whole wishbone from a chicken, cleaned and bleached. I don’t quite remember what possessed me to display those things, but they are in my kitchen windowsill. The third thing I do remember, was a penny. I never pick up lucky pennies, but I was cleaning, alone, in the cabin atop the hill at work, and I found it while sweeping. I had all the doors flung open so the late summer breeze was blowing through, generously. There was a strange inkling of fall, and a mousy smell about the house. I remember feeling nostalgic, but at peace, in the country again, the only sounds being the river rushing, the bird song, and the wind in the leaves. I swept up the penny initially, but then felt an urge to keep it. I had felt so peaceful in that moment.
The last time it happened, I found a handkerchief. I was going through a bin of old rags and found it there before work. It was clean, its colors were all faded, and there was a hole in the upper corner. I started a fire soon after for a group of students, and the fire’s heat in the August afternoon pulled thick sweat from my brow. I used the handkerchief then, when I felt strong and useful.
I think about that now, as I hold the hex nut, and look out at the water. I realize that all these artifacts I’m collecting come from moments of peace and epiphanies of calm. I wonder about the purpose of them, their shapes outlined in the window shrine every morning and night. They are all questions, really, teaching me to wait. A friend once sent me a quotation: “Be patient with all that is unsolved in your heart. Try to love the questions themselves.”
I think about the honeybees. I think about the spiders, fish, and water bugs. Absolutely, this is not the efficient, calloused evolution of a population. It’s the highly disorganized, exhilarating evolution of one single soul. And I don’t know the word for it, nor do I yet know what water is, or how many ecosystems the heart holds, or what shape I’m in. Do the honeybees know, or do they just do, the hexagon the only design in their pattern language, organizing their dreams into sheets and sheets of gold?
Someone jumps into the water, pulling me from my trance. I smile a good morning as a head pops up from the surface. Leaving the questions to lie, I put the hex nut in my pocket, and hoist myself back to the house. I carry it in my wallet all day at work, and then add it to my windowsill at dusk. It’s right in the arc of the wishbone, beside the penny, so you can see all its sides.