177: “Nested There Harmoniously” (Claire Vaye Watkins)

                “And though the two sang in their Orient language I knew by way of feeling that their song was about fleas and lice and vultures and blue jays and marmots and coons and cougars and grizzly bears, and through their soothing melody all these once frightful and malevolent creatures streamed into my heart as though it were Noah’s, and nested there harmoniously.”
                -Claire Vaye Watkins, “The Diggings,” Battleborn

                There are creatures that frighten me, that feel harmful. I love a kind of art that, instead of helping me fight against these objects of my fear, creates a harmony between them and me. A kind of art that makes my heart a wide, open enough place for the cougars and the grizzly bears, the fleas and the lice.
                Of course, that’s not what we “have” to do. It’s not the only option. We can fight, too–shoot the wolves, poison the spiders. We can, we often do, and in my own life I have. I’ve taken something that frightened me and pushed it away, covered it up, lied about it. But then I live without clawed footprints in the forest. I live without maggots, who bring old meat back into the web of living things. I live without whatever it is I could have learned from the monsters I killed or locked away. I miss the melody.
                I feel (and see) a driving desire to make things mine, to make them as expected, to make them the way I see them. But there’s no harmony with just one note. I want the vultures. I want the grizzlies back, though sometimes I’ll be scared of them. I want lice. There will be trade offs, of course, that come with that. I’ll have to be more careful. But there were trade offs that came with ending those things, too. A naturalist told me years ago that the thing to do with a bear is talk to it, so it hears you coming up, because then you can be going this way while it’s going that way and no one’s startled. A bear is still a bear. I don’t want it tamed. I don’t want it killed. I have my fears, but I want a larger heart and the streams that flow past it, and a song that lets in all those other things to nest, here, harmoniously.

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