December 23, 2016KR BlogUncategorized

Only Wildness

I recently woke up to a surprise snowstorm that dropped somewhere between six and eight inches of snow in my neighborhood. I’ve lived in Cleveland long enough to not consider this a big deal, so I left for work as planned. I walked down my street and turned the corner, and there I saw my bus waiting at a red light. I ran past long lines of cars stopped in traffic to reach this bus. Once on board, I found an empty seat, pulled out a book—I was reading the brilliant and gorgeous and often heartbreaking H Is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald—and settled in.

It took a full thirty minutes for the bus to move four short blocks. My commute, no doubt, would be much worse than anticipated, but I wasn’t worried. I was warm, I had a seat to myself, and I had Macdonald’s tale of hawks and heights and grief to keep me company.

We inched along until we finally turned onto the highway that would deliver us the final stretch to downtown. We crawled and slid past another bus that had broken down on the side of the road, where it waited emptied and abandoned. I’m glad that’s not us, I remembered thinking.

Image result for h is for hawkAbout two minutes later, my own bus got stuck. The driver did his best, but he could not free us from our rut in the snow. The other buses behind us, we soon learned, had been rerouted, which meant there would be no additional bus forthcoming to save us, or at least not anytime soon. Although we’d stopped well within walking distance of my home, the road was far too busy and dangerous to risk getting out and walking, so that was that. We were stuck.

The other passengers stood and peered out the windows. They walked up and down the aisle. They called their bosses, their spouses, their coworkers. One young man was on his way to take an exam; he hoped his professor would be lenient. I hoped so, too. I hoped I would be lenient if I were in his professor’s position that day.

But I wasn’t teaching anything. Instead I was warm on a bus with my book and a perfect excuse to do nothing but read.

I read page after page after page. I read: “The hawk is on my fist. Thirty ounces of death in a feathered jacket; a being whose world is drawn in plots and vectors that pull her toward lives’ ends.” And I read: “As the hawk became tamer I was growing wilder.”

For hours, I sat on that bus and I read. I turned page after page in H Is for Hawk while something burned in me like relief. The truth was, I hadn’t been reading much that week. When I wasn’t at work, I was absorbed by freelance projects, or preparing to visit family out of state, or making halfhearted holiday preparations. And when I did have down time, I’ll admit it: Instead of reading, I spent it watching Westworld.

But here I was with a book and time. I read: “Imagine: you’re in a darkened room. You are sitting with a hawk on your fist.” And I read: “Her beak was open, her hackles raised; her wild eyes were the colour of sun on white paper, and they stared because the whole world had fallen into them at once.”

What a luxury it was, to not have to worry, to let myself just be where I was. Some of the passengers around me were not so fortunate. They left anxious messages for their bosses. They took photos of the bus and the passing traffic for proof that we were stuck. They complained, too. About the snow, about the city’s response to the snow, about the lack of plows or planning or timely response from the transportation authority. I listened to all of this and felt oddly zen about the whole thing. Sometimes it snows, I kept thinking. The snow is no one’s fault.

I read: “The hawk’s pupils are huge. Her eyes are almost completely black.” And I read: “She gains height. There is a terrible crepuscular hush.”

Two men left the bus, briefly, to urinate into the snow. A woman stood near me, deeply engaged in what appeared to be a conversation with herself. Another passenger walked down the aisle to offer everyone chocolate chip cookies. Behind me, someone said into his phone: “It’s not the end of the world.”

I read: “After three more bates my heart is beating like a fitting beast, but she’s back on the glove, beak open, eyes blazing.”

Eventually, another bus would arrive and save us. We’d leave our driver behind to climb onto this new bus, relieved and full of warmth for the passengers making room for us. We’d make the short trip downtown, where I would go to work and carry on my day as though nothing had happened. But in that moment I was still stuck, and I was still reading, and hawks circled above me.

I read: “Here’s one thing I know from years of training hawks: one of the things you must learn to do is become invisible.”

And I read: “We carry the lives we’ve imagined as we carry the lives we have, and sometimes a reckoning comes of all of the lives we have lost.”

And I read: “I don’t have both sides. I only have wildness.”