797: Night Terrors in America

797: Night Terrors in America

797: Night Terrors in America


I’m Major Jackson and this is The Slowdown.

One beautiful morning last summer, I rushed to hit the trails. If I had any common sense I would have waited a couple of days after the previous nights’ rains. The forest floor was mucky, so shortly into my hike, I tripped and slid down the slope on the side of the mountain.

I was in some pain, and held my left wrist. Grimacing, I panned the ground. My face opened in surprise and then opened some more in wonder. Here before me was a patch of porcelain white flowers that I’d never seen before, growing in the wild. In fact, I had never seen anything like them here in the Moosalamoo Region of Vermont’s Green Mountains: they were eerie, translucent stalks, huddled in clusters, their heads hanging as if embarrassed by my having discovered them, an image that reminded me of a Rodin sculpture, The Burghers of Calais. I had landed in a field of Ghost Pipes, the Monotropa uniflora. They looked like flowers from the underworld.

Encounters with nature can transfigure us, have us think differently, put us in harmony with it and possibly with each other. This might be part of its survival circuitry. There’s that colorful lantana bush in bloom in your yard or a spread of wild aster deep in the forest saying Hey! Over here! Take notice; I’m precious! Don’t trample me! The natural world is strange, unexpected, sure, but how else would we stumble upon new things to love?

Whenever something new floats across my sight, like that meadow of ghost pipe, I become obsessed with learning as much as I can. Then life becomes more perceptible rather than a daunting stubborn mystery. We are given the gift of wonder and awe in order to tide us over. Until the world feels, once again, grasped, more illuminated, and we feel on firmer ground.

Today’s poem models how we might, if given the chance once again, dignify the earth and its inhabitants with our attention, so that seeing, and seeing deeply, evolves into care and reverence. The poem invites us, by example, to not only notice the earth, but to become earth stewards, to lean into corrective acts given our history of damage and destruction.

Night Terrors in America
by CJ Evans

If I were to try, I’d begin with awe, with iron core, mantle, the oceans
full of secretive things. Land just a glimpse of skin, deliciously unblemished.
Then closer: ferns and fjords and sliding glaciers. But I’d end up leaning in
to trace walls, borders, touch a finger to the men practicing their sicknesses
and landmines. Scratching topsoil to lever out the hydrogen bombs and gas
chambers they’d have history’s dirty mirror forget. I still don’t want
to leave my want for this place behind. If I were to try again: whales,
white spiders in caves, and all those simple stones that carry no trace of us.

“Night Terrors in America” by CJ Evans from LIVES © 2022 CJ Evans. Used by permission of Sarabande Books.