Memory & Adventure 2: Moments of Wonder

Image courtesy of Eryne G.

The following exercise comes to us thanks to the amazing Melanie Rae Thon, who has generously provided me with an expansive set of exercises that will be published here over the coming weeks. This particular exercise is the second part of a mini-collection, and the first part can be found here. They are meant to be completed in order, so go back and finish “Matters of Life and Death” if you haven’t already. Enjoy!

Moments of Wonder

Try another brainstorming list, this time focusing on Moments of Wonder. Think about times when you have been astonished by something you encountered out in the mysterious world and/or deep in your own secret environment (clouds, snow, cold, mosquitoes, bees, cliffs, madrona trees, a river running gold with tannin, a coop full of pure
white pigeons, subalpine firs that had become snow ghosts (whose lower limbs were taking root in soft dark earth deep beneath snow even as you watched them), a man with hooks for hands who came to your rescue, reflections of trees in a river with fish swimming in the treetops, singing whales, a limestone cave, a howling coyote . . . ).

Your examples may focus on an encounter with single being (e.g. the coyote across the arroyo), or a whole experience (e.g. traveling out to sea, listening to—or even swimming with—the whales).

You may think of startling, mysterious, extreme encounters in the “wild,” but you may also consider more subtle examples. Every environment offers its own endless wonder. If I’m paying attention, something staggers me every time I go to the grocery store (a boy helps his crippled sister walk; a mother drops her baby on its head; a little girl puts her tiny brother’s shoe in the freezer, then slips it back on his foot to make him howl from the cold; a miniature woman wheels a child’s shopping cart while her grown grandson clutches her sweater, trying to slow her
down; two small girls wheel their legless mother through the store in her wheelchair while she stuffs cans of food and bags of cookies under her sweater).

On the morning news I hear a story about five children in Florida who have climbed over their neighbor’s fence to ride his eighteen-foot python.I read that human beings are the descendents of bacteria! Why are you afraid? They have been on planet earth for 80% of the planet’s history, 3.8 billion years. Humans have been around for 0.003% of the planet’s history. There will be life on earth long after we are gone. Hallelujah!

I walk on Sperry Glacier with my sixty-two-year-old mother; I glide out on the frozen lake with my eighty-three-year-old mother. The time between these miracles seems no greater than the distance between where we were then and where we are now, ninety miles.

I speak with the pigeons in the park. I try to learn their language. They have a bad reputation, pigeons. “Rats with wings,” my friend Roy says. But they can fly eighty-five miles per hour!

What am I in comparison to them? (Are you better than a bird, more clean, more holy?) Their songs are gloriously soft:

wof – wof – woo
oo’ koo – koo – koo
whoo – oo – who
ooah – woo
ooah – woo – woo – woo
whoooooooo ooooooooh

Look at the sky (or the reflection of sky in a puddle of water—even a centimeter of water reflects infinite height of tree and depth of sky!). Light is a gift! Shadows are magical. Every bird is a messenger. The gulls are so high they look like points of white light, a constellation of birds in motion. There’s a dragonfly with shimmering golden wings dying in the parking lot. I am here, its patient witness. Look! My brother is washing our father’s feet, cleaning his
wounds, bandaging sores that will never heal. The homeless man sleeps on the pavement with his precious shoes tucked under his head as a pillow and his jacket securely chained to his neck.

In the park, the fearless boys and glorious girls are flying on their skateboards. A cloud passes over the sun, and everything I think I see changes.

Each moment of our lives is eternal, dense with sensation, full of miraculous encounters with living beings and potent entities.

Michelangelo said, Miserable mortals! Open your eyes! I would say, Belovéd Ones! Open your hearts, your minds, your senses!

List as many of these moments or episodes as you can.

Can you see connections between this list and your first one? Draw a Web of Connections to show how sensory impressions, memories, experiences converge and complicate and illuminate one another!

As we prepare to start part three in the next exercise, chose a starting point (any starting point) from the Web of Connections. Infuse your meditations with as many miraculous details as you can!

Melanie Rae Thon Author PhotoMelanie Rae Thon’s most recent books are Silence & Song (September 2015) and The 7th Man (November 2015). She is also the author of the novels The Voice of the River, Sweet Hearts, Meteors in August, and Iona Moon, and the story collections In This Light, First, Body, and Girls in the Grass. Thon’s work has been included in Best American Short Stories (1995, 1996), three Pushcart Prize Anthologies (2003, 2006, 2008), and O. Henry Prize Stories (2006). She is a recipient of a Whiting Writer’s Award, two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Mountains & Plains Independent Booksellers Association Reading the West Book Award, the Gina Berriault Award, the Utah Book Award, and a Writer’s Residency from the Lannan Foundation. In 2009, she was Virgil C. Aldrich Fellow at the Tanner Humanities Center. Originally from Montana, Melanie now lives in Salt Lake City, where she teaches in the Creative Writing and Environmental Humanities programs at the University of Utah. She is a 2016 Guggenheim Fellow in Fiction.