Matt W Cook

writer.former fundamentalist.christianly fellow

Tag: nature

A Few Lines on a Warm Afternoon

I am not just lying, stretched out under this tree in the warm afternoon of early autumn.
I am not just listening to the ever-unique chatterings of birds and squirrels who argue and flirt with each other in the branches.
I am not just breathing this air made fragrant with the warm decay of the shifting season.
I am not just watching the leaves as they lose their delicate grip to tumble down and rejoin the dust they sprung from.
I am not just drifting in and out of idle thoughts and half-dreams this sleepy afternoon.


I just am.
And I don’t need a photo
or a sketch
or these words on a page to make it so.

Even so,
I write the words
and slip a leaf into the brim of my hat
as I slip off to my next class.

Into the Thar

I took a drive into the Thar.  The sun was hot and dry and beautiful.  Sand stretched around as far as our eyesight would carry us.  We stopped the car and got out in a place without any memorable landmark.  We walked around and looked at the nearly nothing that surrounded us.

Tree in the Thar

My son was two or three.  He was enthralled by the endlessness of it.  A place without walls or horns or people.  A place where you could run without watching and fear no accident.  No ditch to fall into.  No traffic to be wary of.  Endless surface just begging to be played with.

We crouched own on the ground together and looked at the sand.  It seemed like any other sand at any beach or children’s play pit.  We picked it up in our hands and let it slip through our fingers.  Eliot was able to see fear in a handful of dust.  We saw beauty in a handful of sand.

TharDespite its playful novelty, the desert was an obviously hard place.  Everything alive had to fight to keep living.  Every dry and thorny bush.  Every skittering lizard and scorpion.  And every tree. You wouldn’t think there would be trees in the desert–and deeper into the Thar there wouldn’t even be these grasses, let alone trees.  But here there were a few daredevil khejri and neems that had managed to beat the odds to stand alone in vast fields of sand and sparse grasses.

Night fell and we were still out in the open desert.  We wandered as the stars burned against the night sky.  There were no clouds or city lights to hide them.  I had seen stars before–I had been raised on constant trips into the Canadian wilderness.  But even the vibrant stars over Temagami could not compare to the lights above the stark emptiness of Thar.

We looked up at a menagerie of flame and void.  The Milky Way scattered itself across the scene.  One Pakistani folk tale says that the Milky Way is made by the spirits of dead youth who spend eternity scattering grains of salt across the sky.  I believed it that night.

We stayed for a long time, walking, praying.  The void of desert and sky brought out something within us we all had forgotten.  A certain mysticism that all religions try to stumble toward and none really manage to grasp.  A sense of the immensity, beauty, and absurdity of existence.  An understanding of the cosmic power of love.  A yearning to fly into the waiting arms of the universe herself.

Discovering the Universe

I discovered the universe the other day. Ever been there?

Strange place, that. Full of tricks and lights. Flashing about with them teeth. With them claws.

“With them eyes?”

No, not with them eyes. I got the eyes. And the ears and the lips and the hands for touching and the tongue for tasting. That’s why I discovered the universe, not the other way around.

“What was it like?”

Son, it was like this.

I opened my eyes, and the universe fed me with photons. Some were salty. Some were sweet. Some were loud and shaking. Some were tiny and secretive.

I opened my ears, and the universe showed me her vibrations. Her churning and her pulsating. Her rhythmic, sexual dances that pulled and pushed on the drums within my head.

I opened my mouth and the universe cradled me like a child at the breast. The fruits of the earth, made from the same stuff as I. The fruits of the earth, slowly becoming I.

I opened my hands and caressed the universe, digging deep in the brown earth. Massaging the white clouds. Pushing at the crystal-clear waters.

I opened my nose and I drank the scents that flew off of the universe’s body. The harshness of fire smoke. The gentleness of lavender and sandal.

And then I opened my soul. And she spoke to me.

“What did she say to you?”

Are you awake?

“And what did you say back to her?”

I think I am.

Here Goes Nothing

First off, it was chilly.  It’s hard to do anything in the water while it’s chilly.

The whole group of us paddled to the jumping rocks anyway, even though I made it clear I wasn’t going to jump.  The lowest rocks were seventeen feet above the water and I don’t do heights so well.  But it’s always fun to watch my brothers leap off the rocks.  I usually don’t like being a spectator, but when it comes to flinging my body off a cliff I’m content to be the armchair athlete.

My son, it turns out, is not nearly as content.

His jaw hung open when he saw my brothers flying through the air.  He turned to me.

“I want to do it,” he said.

“You’re only seven,” I told him, as if he didn’t know.

“I’ll wear a life jacket.”

I was about to forbid him.  I really was, I promise.  But that most interesting of all adverbs gave me pause.


Why tell this young dare devil no?

Why tell him to act his age?

Why refuse his desire to push himself beyond his limits and seek the special place where the magic happens?

Because the magic always happens on the edge, or just over it.  It always happens in those places that we fear to go.  Out of the zone of comfort and familiarity.

“Sure, Joe.  Go for it.”

Five minutes later he was at the top of the cliff, inching to the edge and shaking all over in fear and excitement.

“I don’t know,” he said.

“You can do it,” I called.  “It’ll be fun.”

He put his toes on the edge and gazed down.

“Here goes nothing,” he called.  And he pushed himself off.

He hung in mid air for a moment.  His arms were outstretched and waving.  His feet floated in the air beneath him.  His face wore the look of joy and terror and life.

He was where the magic happens.

Here goes nothing.

On a Dirty Rock

I sit on a dirty rock beside the dirty creek in Toronto. A pile of dark foam gathers to my right, bouncing against my rock, trying to get downstream. The water is brown and smells of something old and dusty. A busy street flows across the creek at my left, honking and rushing. Bits of garbage litter the shore behind me. This is a dirty place. This is a place abused.

And yet, glory dwells here.

The glory is resilient. Despite the unnatural stains that garb it, the rock upon which I sit is solid, older than any nation, prouder than any man. Here it sat before I was born and here it will sit when I have turned to dust. Upon its face I see imprints of the life that flourished before my kind set foot on this land. Glory.

The water flows, made no less graceful for the silt and crud it is forced to carry. It dips and dives, vaults and jumps over stone and boulder. Nothing bars its way. Nothing can mar its ever-shifting skin. It is the great serpent of God; the true Leviathan that is tamed only by the one that made it. Glory.

The rubbish-clad shore behind me pulses with life. The magical mix we ignobly call dirt pushes forth green glory, and transforms the dead into the living. Under every rock the spark of life flourishes. Each towering tree is birthed from this stable, ever-changing womb upon which we walk and from which we draw our own life. Glory.

The glory is resilient. We have tried so long to kill it. We have tried to poison it, strangle it, replace it with our own infantile forgeries made of dead wood and concrete. But the dead cannot replace the living. A water tank cannot outdo the stream. And a concrete bench can never compare to this prehistoric throne of glory upon which I sit, here beside the dirty creek.