Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The First Fold

Fifty-five years old, and I still haven’t gotten to the bottom of folding an origami crane.

Every time it’s the same: the square folded over into a triangle, the triangle folded over again, and then the first magic reversal, one shape turned inside out into another. Finally, the moment when abstract geometry suddenly becomes, before the process is quite finished, the recognizably emerging image of a living thing.

Every time it’s different: the pattern and texture of this paper; the intransigence of this particular fold, born of some infinitesimal imprecision at an earlier step in the process. The head and neck not quite poised at the crisp angle I’d hoped for. Each crane individual after all, imbued with a personality just barely distinguishable from the last five I’ve made.

I've found it the ideal meditation in my more obsessively driven moments, when I’ve most needed, and been least able, to slow down. Years ago, I kept a stack of paper next to the phone, ready for the likelihood of being put on hold. Folding required nothing of me at all but immersion in the moment. Monkey-minded distraction, lulled in spite of itself by the multiple steps, came full circle to meet singularity of purpose. Periodically, a whole bowl heaped with paper birds called for some suitable disposal.

To offer a crane to a friend; to a stranger; to leave it for discovery by a passerby never even seen; to string scores of them from the branches of a tree in a public park; to scatter them across a beach in the light of early morning; to let the simple act of transforming a sheet of paper stand in for a more explicit and eloquent intention, when words are exhausted, or exhausting, or both; to let mute paper pray for you when you cannot; to invest it with a desire that the world should be full of simple but elegantly beautiful surprises: all these begin in the first fold.


  1. What a lovely thing to do. Makes me want to reconsider my time in the bathroom, also known as my "crossword moments." It would be so much nicer to have a stack of colored paper there to create lovely cranes to leave here and there for others. But on second thought, how many would question the cleanliness of my hands? (Shame on me. So I suppose I'll stick to those crossword puzzles.)

  2. Maybe if you fold only with your right hand. Which would also raise the Zen quotient considerably.

  3. That's so awesome. I'm a little jealous, because I don't know how to make cranes without someone telling me again and again. I think it's a function of lost brain cells from my experiences in the eighties.... hm...