An Infinitude of Joy
Ask me for a list of the most joyful and memorable moments of my life, and what you will note, if you are good at patterns, is that they tended to have occurred outside.
Yes, I did get married indoors, but what I will remember — when I am so old that I can barely recall my own name — is extricating my bride from all the well-wishers after the ceremony, leaving Philadelphia’s Old St. Mary’s Church on foot, and leading our guests through Washington Square Park to the reception. And yes, yes, the births of our two sons were indoor events, but even there, the scenes that stay with me are, for example, the image of my father seated in a rocking chair at the back of our kitchen, dozing despite himself, our newborn son clutched to his chest, the two of them framed by a window that looked out on a steel-gray, hushed Thanksgiving afternoon.
Those moments: Sitting on the edge of a sandbar in the middle of the White River with my brother, not insignificantly drunk on beer and on having seen nary a living soul for two or three days, dangling our legs in the water and watching as the dying sun made the steep canyon walls glow like molten copper. And huddling under a rock ledge with my wife and unborn first child at Tintagel Castle on the Cornwall coast, sheltering from the sort of black squall that the wizard Merlin might have summoned for Uther Pendragon. And listening to the twilight sounds of the great Okefenokee Swamp from Round Top Shelter, a wooden platform smack in the middle of the immense and eerily beautiful Chase Prairie, as my friend Bill and I washed down some indifferent chili with some very passable whiskey.
Add yesterday to the list.
This was Storm King Art Center in the Hudson Valley near Cornwell, New York. I had high expectations before our visit. I especially wanted to see Andy Goldsworthy’s Storm King Wall (1997-1998):
We walked straight to it after arriving and then wended our way back through the grounds, exclaiming over sculptures such as Zhang Huan’s Three Legged Buddha (2007), which we and seemingly everyone else loved:
We were also very much taken with Ursula von Rydingsvard’s works, Luba (2009-2010) and For Paul (1990-1992, 2001), about which someone has said, persuasively, that in her work “layers of joined wood are metaphors for accretions of primal history.” And I agree, too, with another person who has written that her work “made me so strangely uneasy. Her mammoth constructions quiver with power and evocative, disturbing contradictions. These cedar creatures, their scarred and striated surfaces frequently darkened with rubbed-in graphite, are monumental yet intimate, crude yet delicate. Von Rydingsvard is an artist who works on a dauntingly heroic scale while the underlying content of her pieces is intensely personal, even haunted by her memories …” I was fascinated by them:
In the end, though, it was Mother Nature herself who beguiled and thrilled us. We kept looking at each other as if to make certain that the other realized how, yes, joyous and memorable a day that she had bestowed upon us:
I am a lucky man. You are a fortunate person. We are alive amid the unfathomable profusion of beauty on this planet. Whatever our struggles — and I do not mean to seem unfeeling about them or to diminish them in any way — we have a chance, at least, each day, to step out into it and gaze upon it. As poet Nathalie Anderson has written, “This is / what you are, and this is where: so much light spilling / over the lip of the world, it slakes, it dazzles, / it splashes profligate into the trees.”