Excerpt from a journal entry last night ...
Sitting here over a book after having finished Peck's "Different Drum" this evening... watching a cup of Lemon Zinger steam. And I... for the second time in a few days am held captive by the wisps twirling off its mirage-y surface. I think of vapor pressure, as I tried to explain it to the kids this morning, and want to see the steam settle over the surface as neat little dry-erase molecules so that my explanation would be right. But of course it doesn't. It is too beautiful. It is real. I sit mesmerized by it for a time... watching lingering twists in the glimmering surface drive vortices of vigorous fog, lapping at nothing... furious little fogs. Delicate and frightening.
I watch them twist from a particular side of the mug's mouth, near the handle. I am jealous. I tried to make a vortex once, and I even had a specially cut box to my advantage... channeling the air in a twisting motion to drive the steam upwards, spinning... but nothing spun then. My box was wrong, or my steam too tame... but this silly, beautiful cup of tea makes them effortlessly.
I hold my breath in curious fear that this beauty may be something I have caused accidentally... the coils continue to rise. I just watch them. I feel a curious affection for them. I study them, ever more intrigued... They like the side of the mug near my hand. I wonder why, but my science is weak. I strain to see the molecules flowing in to replace them as they rise. I can't of course.
An ache between my ears, and I realize I have been trying to predict them subconsciously. My mind has nothing that it can do with them. Every new coil surprises me... but I grab it as soon as I see it, and envision it twisting upward and outward, dispensing its mystical energies in a predictable way, like the shockwaves the 12th graders watched today, but they never do. Each new vortex that forms inspires new hope for that pattern... and each old vortex kicks that hope in the face. It is emotionally exhausting, dancing with these little water wraiths.
I scold myself for being so intellectually lazy or arrogant as to lust for the predictable... to want them to dance to my tune and not surprise me. I am not worshipful. My childlike glee over a surprizing, colorful world has somehow been supplanted by some aching arrogance... or fear... or something... I will embrace the glee. Lord help me embrace the glee... even as I study the dancers.
And I watch the scene some more... They really are stubborn, fiery little things, dancing all about. Being something so delicate, I would expect them to move more like... oh... a petal fluttering to the grass and flattening in a noiseless sigh, or a morning fog rolling through an Appalachian pass... Silent, steady... defined by the slow cascade of its entrance. And there it is. You breathlessly wonder if it will stay because you don't remember breathing as it entered... you were only aware of nature's breath.
These little wisps should be like that... delicate, graceful, organic and elegant... but every characteristic a photo of them might evidence, their conduct would defy. With elegance of a diving Aningha, they play for a bit and then, dramatically... snap! they are gone... It startles me every time. I catch my breath a little. THey are the opposite of a sigh... defined not by their entrance (I rarely see a wisp begin) but dramatically by their exit.
I am reminded of a Native American flute concert at Berea one spring... of closing my eyes and feeling that music sway and flex... and then, at the end of a fluid, ghostly phrase, a little spike... as the floutist would pinch the last wisp of air from his mouth and give it a dramatically small pocket of flute in which to resonate. I felt like a whip made of tone, only the 'crack' would give you goosebumps. There is that quality to these little coils... they dance with accentuated, inexhaustible life... that is its strongest in some way... at that very last grace note.
It occurs to me now... they are enfuriating because they defy my definition... defy my expectations... defy my will. And yet... they are infinitely more in-tune with their mortality that I am most days, and I suspect, than most of us are. How wonderful it would be to live like they do... unconcerned with what has been, for better or worse, easing into our present, and then dancing there, creating beauty that follows no prescription, needs no model, and is wholly un-selfconscious. It's just dancing. Twisting among the other wisps, forming vortices.... They seem happy, and strong... all the way to the end, and then... whip... without apology... without regret... without permission... they are gone.
Perhaps that was what I felt, watching each wisp disappear... mourning... the ache... not frustration at my failure to hold them in my mind, but rather my failure to hold them at all. A sadness to see such a breathtakingly beautiful thing snapped away in an instant... the tension of holding the fleeting in your heart and dancing along... enjoying every moment... and trying to locate and process the tense fear that the magic could end at any moment. Somehow.. .that transience manages to transform something as ordinary as water vapor into a phenomenon to be tasted by every cell.
I think of this lesson as it spirals... twists to its end... and I again feel that mortal tension. What happens next... will it die... will I forget? It has been so beautiful... But I must... must emulate those little dancers more every chance that I get.... must grasp mortal life for the beauty it yields exponentially when lived rather than just tolerate it until the inevitable end. May I twist until the grace note. May I be mourned.
I do not regret capturing this spiritual moment exactly... but I think there is one more lesson to be learned. I glance over at my teacup... it is cold. There are no more dancers. I let them dance without audience in order to write this. For all the value in capturing the dance, I have let it dance out... some things... need to be lived, rather than processed... or they are missed.