I walked for two hours in the middle of the day today, and the temperature dropped about twenty degrees during the walk, as a dry north wind pushed the warmer, humid air southward and gathering clouds obscured the sun. I felt keenly connected to the living beings I sighted on my way along the graveled trail that runs behind suburban backyards and next to parks and through reserved wild areas, including ponds and creeks and a man-made lake behind a flood-controlling dam. I watched a gulp of cormorants bobbing on the rough surface of the lake, dipping their heads and necks below the water in a random pattern that reminded me of a splash pad fountain, but in an opposite direction, where the water jets upward from dimples across the walkable surface, catching children in the sudden spray with as much surprise as the fish were caught today. On its own at the edge of the lake, a great blue heron emerged with a fish perpendicular across its beak and swallowed the fish’s bulk down its long throat, then dived again for more. Away from the lake, on the shores of a pond, a small dole of doves bustled around on the ground under a tree and within the shelter of brambles and fallen branches, cooing and rearranging until they sensed my approaching steps and then my observation. They held still, and quiet. They watched me watching them. Near the doves was a slim tree that had been killed in last February’s ice storm and subsequent extended deep freeze; the wind today compound fractured its trunk near the base, and it collapsed across the trail, but not against the ground: A sturdy network of cat briar vines that had used the young tree as a climbing support now became its mesh stretcher, and it was easy enough to move the mass from perpendicular to parallel to the trail, the briars accommodating the 90-degree shift.
I was still a young child in the last few years of the Vietnam War, and the televised scenes of the destruction there traumatized me. My father assured me that everything I was seeing on the screen in our living room was actually happening far away, to other people, and he showed me on a map and globe where we were, where it was—but both the map and the globe looked small enough to me. I had a sense even then of our human and earthly interconnectivity, that what we might think only affects some of us reaches out to all of us—and I could not understand why, if as kindergartners we were required to use our words to resolve disagreements, the grownups in charge of the world couldn’t manage that. Now, as troops gather and negotiations choke between Russia and Ukraine and all the other countries that have various stakes in both the political/military posturing and the very real consequences of armed conflict for ordinary people, I feel a proximity as near as if the trail I walked today were being marched by soldiers. My youngest son has close friends in eastern Ukraine: Children he has sung with; adults who have encouraged and inspired him; babushkas who have fed him and have let him work in their vegetable patches. Ukrainians and their gardens, workplaces, schools, homes; the sidewalks and roads that connect them: I’m dizzy with desire for their peace and protection, longing for peace for all of us.