Outside my basement window stands a bush, its cold, gnarly branches covered with thick, wet snow. A bright red cardinal—not the kind that can become pope—perches on a branch, staring at me. I’m staring back.
Like most staring contests, this one began by happenstance. But now that it’s on, neither one of us is willing to back off.
It’s difficult for the human (me) because cardinals have this big patch of black surrounding their eyes and you really have to stare hard to make sure they aren’t cheating.
Just as my eyelids are screaming to be let down, a female cardinal flits onto the branch adjoining the male. Her outfit isn’t nearly as nice: a hand-me-down, reddish-brown coat badly in need of dry cleaning. Not nearly the bright red let’s-go-shake-some-birdy-tail getup on the dude.
Mister cardinal breaks eye contact with me and shoots a guilty look at his woman. If birds had shoulders, his definitely would be sagging. Anyway, his head droops. In another instant they’ve both flown off.
She had to have said something to him, right? “Henry, you’re staring off into space again. You’re supposed to be out getting dinner. I’m up in the tree, slaving away with the twigs and here you are, goofing on some…some banjo player.”
Speaking of bushes, one day Katherine and I went to a showing of Cezanne’s paintings in Philadelphia. With impressionists what you see is not so much what you see as it is the impression of what you see.
I see their colorful blurs of people, places, trees and fields as art with wiggle room. There’s nary an anal retentive stroke on an impressionist’s canvas. Not so for some of your fruit bowl painters who show every hair on a peach, leaving you no freedom to say anything but “That be a peach.”
We bought a catalog with a curious little painting on the cover: a small bush. It’s not a spectacular, gorgeous rendering of a bush in bloom. It’s a close-up—and I mean close—of the unadorned, inner branches of the bush in winter, with the outer fringes of the world bleeding through.
It’s the part of the bush you never see unless, like me, you have to or, like Cezanne, you want to.
I’m thinking there aren’t many who would spend time trying to get a glimpse at the inside of a bush. Why? Most likely because a lot of people don’t know what they don’t know and that suits them. Because why wouldn’t it?
Maybe a bush grew outside Cezanne’s window and one day it hit him that those bent and crooked arms of genius made it possible for all of that beauty to bask in the sun.
In moments when reason or logic or energy have left me, I swivel my chair and gaze out at life through the inner branches of my bush. In summer I watch the bugs crawling up and down all the livelong day, fat bees buzzing, the occasional famous bird stopping by for a banjo lesson.
Everyone loves it when a bush is in bloom. I’m just beginning to appreciate its inner strength. That be the heart of the matter, and the heart is a beautiful thing. The part you never see, because you just can’t see it.
©Patrick A. McGuire and A Hint of Light 2014, all rights reserved