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THE LIMITS OF THE PAST
May 9, 2011
 
A blue heron rose from the edge of the lake and circled it once in hopes of spotting a suitable fish. Finding none, he sailed off over the treetops to try his luck elsewhere. The majestic bird is not unique to California -- we have them back East, too. But you don't see one every day, and he is worth stopping whatever it is you're doing to gaze.

So were the two road-runners I saw when I arrived here. Now there's a bird we don't have at home -- the two of them sprinted through the parking lot as I was finding my room, and again I had to stop what I was doing and watch until they were out of sight. You guys used to be dinosaurs, I said to them, did you know that? But they ignored me: birds live in the moment. Don't know and don't care about what used to be.*

They are not like us. We cling passionately to what once was, cling to it even if we hated it. We'll choose a familiar despair over an unexpected hope any day. We have a hard time imagining the world as anything other than what it has always been, ourselves as more than we are right now. We go further: we think our own limits are everybody's limits, that no one could do or imagine doing what we cannot imagine doing ourselves. We even think this way of God, cramming the Creator of everything into a box sized to fit our own narrowness, insisting that God cannot do what we cannot imagine. Each of us sits in the prison cell of her own small history, and we can't see out.

But sometimes we transcend ourselves. We are the animals who look at themselves, the ones who write poems and songs about our own lives. Sometimes we look at ourselves and decide that we want to see something beyond what stares back at us from our mirrors. Inch by terrified inch, our hearts in our throats, we venture forth into territory that is new to us. Sometimes.

Certainly, the past is not our enemy. It is the place from which we emerged, our childhood home. We would not be who we are without it. But we no longer live there. The world has turned, and we have turned with it. Not everything that served us then serves us now. Whether with gratitude or with relief, we turn the page and start a new one.

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*Or do they? Year after year, my hummingbirds return to the feeders in our garden -- they remember them. It is even theorized that they can transmit such memories to their offspring, so that it might be the case that the hummingbird at our feeder whom I think is Ethel Merman is really her daughter, Giulietta Massina,* informed by her late mother that life is good on the Farm and that she should make herself at home there.

If you are new to the Geranium Farm, you may not know that all hummingbirds are deceased movie stars. I personally have entertained Ethel Merman, Giulietta Massina and W.C. fields at my feeders. I have some small expertise in this area. If you would like my help in identifying your hummingbird, just reply to this email and describe him or her. I'll do my best to tell you who you've got.
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