Okay, we didn’t climb Bull Hill this year on the summer solstice (see Rivercurrents 6/19/06, Making Plans). The weather was threatening or, should I say, offering rain, and so we met at the chapel in the park where we usually meet. But the sky seemed bright, with big and rather white rain clouds passing over, the ground was sweetly wet from earlier showers, and it was Midsummer’s Eve. It was such a long day, such a short night, and Bull Hill was only about twenty minutes away, and it wasn’t raining right then, and we were thinking, hey, are we such wimps that we can’t drive twenty minutes to a beautiful bank of the river and do our work? What to do?
Only four of us showed up that night. What to do? Stay in the chapel and be safe from rain? And drum dry. Go down and hike up Bull Hill and, maybe, get drenched?
Well, we decided to do neither. The parking place for our hike is also the parking place to go out on a bluff called Little Stony Point that sticks out over the Hudson River and does not require a 30-minute hike. Little Stony Point is a jut of land that was once part of the 18th-century quarry, and now has a commanding view of the river and the ridges across from it. In local lore this area is called “World’s End” because it is where the river is deepest, narrowest, and swiftest, and lots of people drown there. A gloomy thought, but we didn’t let it get to us. It was summer. We drove down to Little Stony Point.
We hiked out around the point, about a 5-minute walk, sat on stones right at the water’s edge beneath the bluff, ignored the bawdy songs of the two guys getting drunk on beer around the bend from us, and proceeded to drum. We drummed. How long? No one ever knows this, do they? But at one point, one of us alerted the others to open our eyes.
Across the river a cloud-bank was floating southward (something that doesn’t happen very often), and it grabbed the mountain across form us called Storm King, and wonderfully draped itself over the crest and floated down, like some faery curtain or dragon breath, caressing the ridge top, curling over the peaks, sinking lower, and moving southward and floating, slowly, and gentling itself over the mountain. And we kept drumming as some dragon-cloud-breath-lifeforce-wonder-spirit-of-the-wandering-mystery just happened to be passing by. And yes, the sun was bleeding into the water behind it, bleeding into the mountain behind it, making that dragon breath pink and orange and golden and ours.
We were so glad we did not stay in the chapel.
Our plans to climb Bull Hill were thwarted. But we were given a gift that still thrills us when we think about it. If the others of our drumming circle who could not come that night don’t know what they missed, in some sense, we don’t even know what we had. What would have happened had we climbed Bull Hill, sat by the rock spirit we usually visit on the summer solstice, and drummed from there? Well, one thing that would have happened is that we would not have seen that fabulous cloud. Or maybe it wouldn’t have come. Did it come because we were there and could notice it? Did the guys guzzling beer notice it? Is there something, or are there many things, in the natural world that happen because they want to be noticed? And of course that takes someone there to do the noticing. Or do they happen anyway?
I don’t have an answer to this. But I think Mary Oliver is right to say about herself in her poem, “Where Does the Temple Begin, Where Does It End” (in Why I Wake Early), and say it so that we might get the point:
‘I look; morning to night I am never done with looking. / Looking I mean not just standing around, but standing around / as though with your arms open. // And thinking: maybe something will come.”
I guess that’s the point. Wherever we are, whatever night it is, however many of us are there, we should be alert, and looking, not just standing around, but standing around as though with our arms open.
Drumming with our arms open.
Maybe something will come.