“A Chance to Find Yourself”

 

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Birthdays Like Chanterelles in Golden Light

by Mary Elder Jacobsen

                       Sonnet for a friend, on reaching 70

Some days, they crop up right in front of you.
Easy. Quick. Done. And once you find one, there,
and luck is with you, here, another one pops into view.
You just can’t help but move toward where they are.
Some days, the foraging bewilders you—
the uphill trudge, the path unclear, dried leaves
of seasons past like waves you’re wading through.
But then you navigate between the old-growth trees
and make your way toward undiscovered treasure,
where northern evergreens have raised their needles up
to stitch the treetops and blue sky together
to knit a shawl of open weave that lights you up,
and all at once, you see the search for what it is—
a chance to find yourself, aglow, in old familiar woods.

From Cold Mountain Review, Fall 2016.
Reprinted with permission.

I had never thought of birthdays as mushrooms before, but the metaphor certainly holds for me. “You just can’t help but move toward where they are,” Jacobsen writes, of both chanterelles and the passing years that propel us forward so quickly, even when we’re paying close attention, doing our best to be mindful of our lives. Yet time can also slow to a crawl during difficult periods that “bewilder” us—”the path unclear, dried leaves/of seasons past like waves you’re wading through.” We trudge onward then, seeking, searching, with no guarantees of what we’ll find. Eventually, as Jacobsen wisely points out later in the poem, we understand that the point of the search is never its outcome. Instead, the “unexpected treasure” lies in the moment you stop to notice the needles of northern evergreens “knitting a shawl of open weave,” in the canopy above, when you take the “chance to find yourself, aglow, in old familiar woods” and see the world with new eyes.

—James Crews