In college I had a sweet old professor who taught me sedimentology. He spent many a summer stretched out beneath the sweeping crossbeds of Jurassic sandstone, belly-down in red desert earth. Not everyone was interested in fluvial processes or sediment transport, but we all leaned in when he waxed poetic about his days as a park ranger. We’d all get lost in the desert as he lovingly described the specimens he found, the people he met, and his close encounters with wildlife.
“The eye often fails to see what the mind does not know,” he would say in class. Then he’d just smile at us, and we’d stare back at him thinking, what the hell does that mean? But in the field, it made sense. These words would float over our little heads from afar, our noses pressed down to the bedrock, peering through hand lenses on an outcrop. We knew the ancient, braided stream beds. We knew the massive rivers…the ones magnitudes larger than any rivers alive today. We knew the creatures that crawled along the salt flats and the beasts that roamed the plains, and we could see them.
Once you know something, you know it everywhere. You know it eternally. What is it that your glorious mind is filled with? I side with Mary, Annie, Henry, and Rumi. They view the world with a mind full of wonder. You decide what your mind knows, what you want to see, experience, feel, love.
I have refused to live
locked in the orderly house of
reasons and proofs.
The world I live in and believe in
is wider than that. And anyway,
what’s wrong with maybe?
You wouldn’t believe what once or
twice I have seen. I’ll just
tell you this:
only if there are angels in your head will you
ever, possibly, see one.
-Mary Oliver, The World I Live In
So what is it that we know? Well, I know about love. About the way ice groans and its heartbeat thumps on the river beneath a hot sun at high noon. I know about the mule deer hunkered down in mountain mahogany three ridges yonder and the old baldy resting in the cottonwood below. I know all about feldspar crystals and the way they grind against my kneecaps through faded denim, how sage fills my lungs when I roll its soft stems through dry fingertips.
I know how to give a damn good hug. I know all about asking questions, about contour lines and landscape scars from long, long ago. I know about butterscotch and vanilla ponderosa pine bark. I know the indigo shadows that lick at the lee sides of the mountains at dusk, the smell of water, and the immense pressing down on my chest of a big mean westerly. These are the wonders my eyes do not fail to see because in my mind, and in my heart, I know them.