Today’s poem is # 555, c. 1862
In the first line Emily advises, “Trust in the Unexpected.” She goes on to explain that it was this trust that helped William Kidd find buried gold, the philosopher and his stone to discern what no one else could see. It was trust in the unexpected that brought Columbus across the ocean where he “baptized America”. And it was that trust that ultimately moved “Afflicted Thomas”, filled with doubt, to reach and perceive with his own hand what his rational mind would not allow—that Christ himself stood before him resurrected from the dead.
“Trust in the unexpected.” I’m taking this personally. There is so much that I don’t know that I don’t know. For instance, I don’t know what lies on the other side of this ocean of my day. Furthermore I don’t know where lies the buried gold of my week or the summer in front of me. I may have convinced myself that I know and let my arrogant mind leap ahead to the next hour or the next year. This belief offers comfort. If I know what to expect then I won’t be caught off guard.
(I wrote the above entry in my notebook this morning. Then came back to it at the end of the day to complete the post, which continues below.)
I shared this poem with a friend today while were were picking blueberries. She observed that the way to heal emotional trauma is to trust in the unexpected. She meant that first you have to open your mind to the possibility of healing, which no one in the throes of painful memory wants to do or expects to do. The way to that, she says, is simply to recognize what you don’t want. Open space where that used to be. And wait for that space to be filled with something you didn’t expect. This friend (who is a therapist) believes that the mind will heal itself if given time and space and supportive awareness. The human psyche wants to move toward wholeness. It will move there in time if only we allow for that unexpected outcome. It occurs to me that this process also depends on that “thing with feathers” . . . hope. Emily, Emily everywhere.
I came home from blueberry picking, washed my hair, made basil pesto for dinner, drank a glass of wine. Then I took Lance for a walk and something really unexpected happened.
Dusk was settling on Bayou Saint John. The far corner of the sky had turned blood red. Lance and I walked along the water toward the Dumaine Street Bridge. We saw a crowd of people and dogs gathered. As we got closer, we saw a fellow sitting on the ground holding his dog’s leash taut. On the other end of the leash was an alligator. He guessed its size to be about three or four feet. The guy had lassoed the alligator’s upper jaw and was holding it against the bank, while the alligator pulled against him, trying to escape back into the bayou. Everyone was standing around watching, not knowing what to do. Robert (the guy holding the leash) said he had asked someone to call the police, but so far New Orleans’ Finest had not showed up.
This alligator had been hanging around our bayou for some time now. Photos had been circulating on the neighborhood association message board. Everyone was in a tizzy (me especially) because alligators have been known to eat dogs who get too close to the water. There was also the possibility that it would attack a child. Lately there had been reports that our Bayou Saint John alligator had been coming onto land and nosing around in the grass before returning to the water. I had just heard this story five minutes earlier from my neighbors Denny and Scharlette. (Denny had named the alligator “Snappy”.) “Oh this cannot continue,” I announced. “Someone has to do something about this.”
When I arrived at the scene of capture, five minutes later, I told Robert that I happen to have the phone number of a guy known as “Gary-the-Trapper” who works with Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries. Would Robert mind holding the alligator a few minutes longer, while I tried to get hold of Gary? “Yeah. Hurry,” said Robert. So I ran home and dropped off Lance, grabbed my cell phone, and found the piece of paper with Gary’s number, right there on my desk underneath the x-ray of my broken ankle. What are the chances, huh? Also turns out Robert, the alligator-lasso-wrangler, has some rodeo experience roping steers. What are the chances of that? What are the chances of any these events and people arriving in the same place and the same time as our friend Snappy?
I caught Gary as he was coming off the Causeway Bridge on his way home from vacationing in the Ozarks. He said he’d come right away. He also wanted to know if Robert was going to stay there with the alligator. Gary didn’t want to make an unnecessary trip, if we were not committed to our end of this project. I asked Robert if he would really, truly stay and hold the alligator in place until Gary could get there. “YES!” he yelled. His dog Ramona, a gentle giant of a Great Dane, was fascinated by this new animal. She knelt beside Robert and rubbed her head in the grass and rolled closer to the alligator, who appeared to be sleeping. “Mona get back!” Robert cried. “You don’t know what you’re doing.”
I asked Robert, when he had decided to drop the leash onto the alligator’s jaw, what had been his plan. What was he going to do with the alligator once he caught it? “Plan?” he said. “Um, I didn’t really have a plan.”
When Gary-the-Trapper got there, he told us that we were a bunch of idiots for standing so close to the alligator. It was much bigger than we thought at first. And it could easily have charged onto the bank and attacked one of us. Robert would have been the most vulnerable. (One woman had been leaning over the alligator and murmuring, “Poor little bunny.”) As he wrapped duct tape around the alligator’s jaw (yet, another use for duct tape!) Gary described in baroque detail how it would have latched onto our limbs and worked its teeth, razoring back and forth, severing the tendons. “You’d have eight months of surgeries, and then lose your arm anyway.” Gary lifted the cuff of his pants to show us the scar where a ten-footer had tried to remove his leg. He has an artificial knee now. “Aren’t you afraid of alligators, since then?” I asked. Gary shrugged. “It’s a job.”
Gary promised that he would not kill the alligator but relocate it to a Wildlife Management Area in Lake Salvador. Someone wanted to know if this was a boy alligator or a girl alligator. Gary flipped it over to show the pale plated armor underneath, and gave us a lesson in how to sex an alligator. Turns out that both male and female genitalia are hidden from view on alligators. One must find the little pocket opening on the underside of the tail at the base. Gary pried this open, peeked inside (he looked somewhat embarrassed), quickly restored the alligator’s private parts to their secret compartment, and announced . . . we had a girl!
I changed the alligator’s name to Esmeralda. Snappy isn’t right for a girl.
Esmeralda writhed in the grass. Earlier when Robert had her on the leash, she had simply dragged her weight (about 80 pounds) against him, as though waiting for him to get bored and give up. She seemed to know we’d be dumbfounded by her and would have no other option but to release her. Esmeralda hadn’t counted on Gary-the-Trapper. Now that her situation had grown grave, she fought like hell, or as well as she could with her forelimbs tied behind her back and her jaw duct taped shut. She was helpless and furious. Her tail thrashed as Gary tried to measure her length. (He patted her plump gut; she had grown fat on nutria.) She would not cooperate with any of this intrusion. Gary showed us where another alligator had taken off a portion of her tail. She would have been six-feet in length were it not for this trauma. Poor Esmeralda. I hope she finds peace and food in Lake Salvador.
I certainly did not expect to meet an alligator when I read Emily’s poem this morning. But I trust that Emily knew everything all along. In fact, I believe she sent me the poem and the alligator as a lesson: Loosen the weave. Allow. Respond.
There was something in the air among us as we stood on the bank of Bayou Saint John and waited with our alligator. Before we knew how dangerous she was and how stupid we were to stand there with her, there was a definite charge in the air. I’ll call it joy. Exhileration. How often do we get to see a creature such as this, here in our midst, a deep dwelling thing that lives in the murk and has come to us in our above-the-water world? We should have been afraid. Instead, in our innocence, we became more alive and awake. And happy for this visit. Why? Because it was strange. Unexpected.
Thank you Esmeralda, and thank you Emily.