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presences 48 absence and light Imagine releasing seventeen mallards, on a clear night, under the stars. Some have been conšned in lightproof enclosures. Some have been fed, others left hungry. Some have been living under altered daylight to reset their internal clocks. How foreign their wings sound in the darkness! How excited the air! They all ¦y northwest tonight, without exception. Something, maybe their ancestral stars, orients them north. Even magnets and minute radio transmitters attached to their bodies can’t affect them.Winds and centrifugal forces don’t deter them at all. Their ears register the effects of acceleration in semicircular canals, where the ¦uid swaying of sensory hairs informs the birds of their balance. Imagine embracing your own body in the forsaken minutes before dawn. Imagine an exactness you’ve never known. Navigate into yourself by imagining the dew šlling with light, out there, on the ordinary lawn. p r e s e n c e s m e d i t a t i o n : four teen I’m driving north out of the marshes after an exhilarating day in the company of birds. Hundreds of bald eagles, thousands of tundra swans and snow geese, hawks, short-eared owls, blackbirds, pelicans, ducks of every kind: my mind is swirling with their stout silhouettes , with their rounded heads and scapulars sloughing the wind. But the day has tapered to dark wingtips, and my birds are gliding me to sleep. I need a cheap motel, something on the edge of the marshes, outside of town. And so I šnd it, squat below a sage-covered hump. An old-style motel, no frills, no pool, no neon, even, to announce the simple offer of a room. I know by the old postcards in the o³ce, by their sentimentality and Technicolor, that I’ve slipped out of time. She greets me before I can ring the night bell; her face is deeply lined, her eyes meek, her hands spotted but sure. 50 absence and light “There’s a ¦uorescent šxture in the bathroom,” she says.“It’ll take a minute to light.The switch is on the wall, not on a string. Turn on the heater yourself; the pilot should be lit. You’ll get hot water soon. I sent my husband just before dinner to oil the pump, because he was having one of his good days, but when I asked him how it went, he just looked so sad and said ‘I don’t know.’ So I went to have a look and do you know he’d spilled oil all over the pump. I had someone come out and šx it. You’ll get hot water when the tank šlls.” Orion is tilting overhead as I jiggle the key in the lock. The room is brick, painted white, with a worn carpet in oranges and browns and a tan bedspread that remind me strangely of the marshes outside. Only older, I think—synthetic and old. The ¦uorescent light, after its sweet moment, ignites, ¦ickers behind the bathroom door. I’m standing in front of a small mirror placed at torso level, looking at my body from my neck to my knees, and I swear I’m a stranger, an unknown. And why have I come? To see the eagles.What had she said? “You know, I used to think the bald eagle was the most beautiful bird in the world. ’Til one day on the highway to Sparks to see my daughter, I noticed a coyote limping onto the road. I slowed down to look when all of a sudden a gold eagle ¦opped from a juniper right over my head. I was close enough to see his bill, and his eyes, and those wings, those awful wings—like an oil slick on velvet.” And here her story and my story intersect. My body is drawn out of obscurity , if only to call and disappear. p r e s e n c e s m e d i t a t i o n : fifteen Obscurity is mostly a matter of scale. Sculptors know what intrigues us: bodies slightly larger or slightly smaller than our own. But only by moving a bit further from ourselves as central can we begin to imagine the obscure. In The Diversity of Life, E. O.Wilson describes animal scale as fractal. He points to the small and the very small: The beetle is scarcely aware of the many dips...


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