the flower-power stickers adhering to my growing-up wall and my sister’s volkswagen beetle were these colors. hot pink and orange daisies, yellows, greens, vibrant and happy. and you think that some pantone or pms chart somewhere was the place they originated. but it’s not so.
this is where they came from.
and the tulips stand – proudly but not arrogantly – in their color, in their field. completely present and at ease, they open to the world, giving it all they’ve got. stand in nature and try not to be humbled…it’s impossible.
belleruth naparstek guides you – inside and outside – to quiet. a place of presence, of ease. not trying to push out thoughts or streams of consciousness passing by, but allowing it all to flow. with practice, you can feel the roots growing under your feet, the steady breathing of awareness, calmness.
and, if you are fortunate, you are held gently, right in the middle of tulip petals, and you are reminded, once again, you are alive. “knowing in a deep place that this place is inside of you…that you are better for this…“
and the snow fell gently in the woods, rendering it muted, like the tones of ansel adams’ pine forest, snow.
it was breathtakingly beautiful.
snowflakes slid from the sky, landing on our faces, our eyelashes, our hats and scarves and coats.
everything slowed – a 78rpm record playing at 33.
stretched out into slow motion, we stood and gazed up into the trillions of perfect flakes.
and, in the way of water – a balm, worries washed away and all that was left was peace. achingly gorgeous, we stayed in it, in the serene, a cloud, unwilling to leave the soft-focus-world moments, the snow sanctuary.
“know that the universe is always conspiring in our favor.” (paulo coelho)
one mention of jack-in-the-pulpit and i was back at blydenburgh park in smithtown. it didn’t take much to find myself in the woods, hiking along the nissequogue river, by the pond. camera in hand, early spring, looking for the earlybirds of the season. jack-in-the-pulpit didn’t disappoint, flowering shortly after my birthday, spotted on muddy hikes on brisk days.
i remember bike-hiking there, with susan. i just googled it and the county park was only 6.6 miles from my growing-up house. we would ride bikes everywhere. our destination of choice – most of the time – was crab meadow beach, but you know that. even in the winter, when handlebar-turned-down-10-speeds were impossible, my trusty little bug would get me there, to that beach. i would walk and walk and walk. the shoreline is a good place to think, to grow, sandy step by sandy step.
last friday – as it approached the end of the workday – we looked at each other. “fridaynightdatenight,” we tossed into the kitchen. as the hour wore on, we pondered what to do – on this datenight. an iffy-weather day, we didn’t bundle up late afternoon for a hike or even a walk. we were looking forward to making a big stockpot of soup, glass of wine in hand. we have three books we are mutually reading. we are binge-watching new amsterdam. dogga was at our feet in the kitchen. it was a cozy fridaynight.
the next day we hiked. because we really do love to be outside on a trail.
and the more i hike, the more i remember hiking.
but somewhere along the way, i stopped.
i didn’t hike. i didn’t take long walks.
and i am somewhat astounded to think about that now.
but not everyone likes to be on a trail or even a sidewalk, for that matter. not everyone likes to merely take-a-walk in the company of someone they love.
i didn’t realize how much i missed blydenburgh park and crab meadow beach and millneck manor and planting fields arboretum and smith’s point park and hoyt farm nature preserve – places so very familiar to me because i walked them – again and again – until i started memorizing the des plaines river trail and the van patten woods and bristol woods and allendale sidewalks along the lakefront.
that’s when i realized how much i had missed, how much each step on trails feeds me – nearby, or in the high mountains of colorado or the smoky mountains of north carolina, along the easternmost long island beaches or in the woods of upstate ny state parks or in the red rock of utah.
the trees were submerged in the river; there had been some mild flooding. i know these trees. we’ve watched them through seasons on saturdaydatehikes or latemondaytuesdaywednesdaythursdayafternoondatenights. we’ve attached to this trail and it feels as if it remembers us as we pass along it. soon, i think i’ll look for jack-in-the-pulpit, just in case. it would likely bloom later here than in blydenburgh park. spring is later here.
as i bent way down, camera in hand, to shoot through the mulch at the river, i was transported back to that suffolk county park, camera always in hand. and it made me think about all the years i had not stepped foot on a trail, had not walked-until-blisters, had not watched the water rise and fall on rivertrees or glimpsed jack-in-the-pulpit in the underbrush.
i wonder about what those decades of trails would have looked like, what mountains i may or may not have climbed, what roiling rivers i might have entered or not entered, what out-of-breath conversations would have taken place, what problems sorted, what challenges summited, what decisions made, what disasters averted, what center might have been out there, what wisdom trails may have gifted me, what might be different.
“in every walk of nature, one receives far more than he seeks.” (john muir)
i’m glad to have found my way back.
walks of nature.
blydenburgh park is 898 miles from here. crab meadow beach is 908. smith’s point park is 924. upstate new york around 1000. the smoky mountains are 739. the high mountains of colorado are 1237. moab et al is 1511. all on the list of places to return to. places to hike, to walk.
but bristol woods is 13 miles and the des plaines river trail is 12. and either of those is a worthy handinhand fridaynightdatenight.
it lay in the snow, the last of the sun’s rays dancing across it. it was merely a single pinecone. but the sun drew me to it and the way the light played on it called attention to the texture. up close and personal, it is a painting.
reading reveals that pinecones are the safe place for the seeds of the tree, that pinecones can remain on a tree for even ten years, that pine cones open and close depending upon moisture. more complex than you might think.
though ever-important for the proliferation of pine trees, pinecones are one of those things we pass by, often not noticing. what else are we missing – passing by the ordinary, not stopping to really look.
because we know our favorite trail well, we see the tiny shifts, the changes, the transformation. we watch the light play on the cattails and marsh grasses and catch the shadows as they fall. if one note in the woods is different, one tint of color, we draw up, stop. there are days we are stopping often, capturing the transitions, watchful.
we don’t buy a lot of new things. we are sorely behind the fashion curve – i suspect our target jeans are a few years behind-the-times. instead, we accumulate these moments of noticing. our breath is not connected to the facets of diamonds, but rather to the way underbrush berries stand out against the snow. we don’t reach for the keys of a porsche; we reach for our backpack to take on the trail. we do not watch a larger-than-life screen tv; our big-screen of choice is outside.
we look for the paintings in the snow, in the sky, in the stand of trees. we listen for the song of the breeze, of wildlife sharing space with us. the wind stings our cheeks and makes the tips of our fingers burn. we are grateful for the quiet and this path through the forest, across the marsh, along the river.
we immerse in the 3D canvas nature is providing us. no virtual reality needed.
in a weekend of weather whiplash, it was stunningly beautiful out. the temperatures reached the fifties, the sun was out, the snow was melting, the breezes were mostly gentle. we spent most of the weekend outside. it was revitalizing – in a week we particularly needed a bit of revitalizing.
we usually take the trails – and stay on them – but this was a week of off-trailing. we trudged our way through the marsh, feet sloppy wet, laughing, just so i could get a good picture of the stand of birch. it put us in territory we hadn’t been and the geese stared at us, wondering what we were doing there. miles later, it was no wonder our legs were tired, but oh-so-worth-it.
and then – something caught my attention sticking up from the dried straw of marsh grasses. i reached down to look at it more closely and drew in my breath. a set of three-point antlers. likely not seen by anyone except us. just touching their smoothness we could imagine the white-tailed deer that had shed them. i took pictures and laid the antlers back down in the marsh, knowing that’s where they belonged.
in the days we have hiked since that day, we have seen many deer in the woods and fields. sunday was a gift of a day – alone on the trail, we had so many visits we lost count. gentle faces peered out of the brush at us – we all stood still, silent. these beautiful creatures of grace and intuition and agility, so welcome as reminders to us. they were – seemingly – everywhere around us – off the trail by the river, in the woods next to the trail, crossing our path time and again, watching us. they knew we meant them no harm; we didn’t even move to photograph them. we just watched and our heartbeats slowed down, worries abating in these shared moments.
antlers are said to signify strength, determination, alertness, and protection. in a time during which i need strength, determination, alertness and protection, i will carry them with me – in my mind’s eye. the balance of things of beauty and things from which we would choose to shield ourselves…the deer are powerful nudges to remember both exist, to be gentle with oneself, to move with conviction, to be devoted to truth and not be mired in others’ agendas, to stand – even antlerless – in grace.
the front of the garnet hill catalog features a collection of stones and says, “there’s beauty in simplicity.” yes. i recognize those rocks – they are scattered through our house…pebbles of mica-laced igneous, slices of red rock, chunks of granite, smooth water-worn river rock. small cairns stacked on the windowsill or the sunroom table, a vase with rocks that are special but can no longer be traced back specifically to why. simple beauty, they remind us that we are all a part of it. no less, no more.
as i get older i realize that i am leaning into simplicity. i am less inclined to be moved by fancy stuff, more given to the unembellished. we hike on trails and are reminded of nature’s brilliant eye for decorating the world. no tchotchkes or trinkets, just no-frills and unadorned life.
i’m guessing this propensity – this leaning – has something to do with my love of arvo pärt’s tintinnabuli minimalist exquisiteness. spiegel im spiegel on repeat. not fussy. not ornamented. straight up gut-wrenchingly beautiful, much like the pine needles in the snow. two monodic lines – melody and triad – woven into the simplest tapestry and “expressing the composer’s special relationship to silence”. nothing bombastic. no blustering. purity.
“there’s beauty in simplicity.” stark, unpretentious, natural.
we had never parked in that section of the daily parking garage, so we never saw it. creatures of habit, we didn’t park there this time either, but we walked across the driveway to use the elevator and the interior moving walkway on that side. for how many times i have flown out of the milwaukee airport, i was surprised to find we could walk inside instead of through the cold terminal parking garage. the walkway was much warmer than the damp parking structure and, since we were going to florida coatless, it was a much better choice.
we rounded the last corner – the one that takes you to the third-level-skywalk to the terminal – to find ancient words of wisdom marking an entrance to the airport’s meditation room. simple, beautiful, quiet – we never knew it was there, though it was completed in late 2017. “airports can be busy, hectic, and stressful places. the MKE meditation room provides a quiet, tranquil location for thought, reflection, prayer, and meditation.” (www.mitchellairport.com) we stopped into the meditation room on our way home. we sat for a few minutes, reading the inspirational words on the wall, closing our eyes in contemplation. it was surprisingly silent. it was right as the liminal space between the flight and home.
a few days ago – in the later afternoon – we hiked one of our favorite trails. we were stressed and needed the space and quiet of this familiar woods. we had been there days before, boots and snowpants through deep snow, trees stunning against the whiteness. it was beautiful. we find the ancient words of the talmud on this trail…we are sustained by its peace, we feel more hope for truth and justice as we walk in nature.
but this day was not quiet. and, though researching the mayhem revealed that it was a “woody invasive species clearing project,” we found the noise, the machinery, the devastated forest disturbing. nothing looked the same and, as much as we know this trail, it was hard to locate within it; without familiar trees and underbrush each bend in the trail looked different.
“removing invasive shrubs and trees in oak communities allows for enough sunlight to reach the ground level to encourage the growth of young native tree seedlings and other native vegetation.” (www.lcfpd.org) we felt somewhat relieved reading these words after our hike, understanding that these big changes were intentional and that the purpose was growth and sustenance of the savanna, prairie, and marsh wetland.
the talmud, the milwaukee meditation room, the preserved woods in northeastern illinois…all the same, i suppose.
it is the removal of the invasive, the obnoxious, the noise, falsity, injustice, all that is conflict-riddled, that allows the sun, that encourages, that sustains the world.
and nature studied jackson and drip-technique-painted the leaf on the trail. strategically placing small muddy potholes, it invited hikers and dogs and horses to step in. just as strategically, it placed the leaf nearby, deep brown in leftover autumn paint. soon, creamy splotches and drips and spatterings pollocked the leaf, ever-changed. i couldn’t help but notice as we walked. i felt some slight validation for the paint-spattered-paintings on our walls, the ones where i stood back and threw paint and threw paint and threw paint until i knew it was done.
i was tempted to pick up the leaf, to carry it home with us. i kind of wish i had. i wonder if anyone else noticed it, really noticed it as we did. and then i realize, that it is in our noticing – even just us – that it became a complete work and that it had a place in the world and that it wouldn’t be forgotten.
it was a good reminder for me, and i remind myself to tell d as well, to remind him. the size of the audience never matters, the number of viewers or listeners. even in one person’s experience of any work of art there is meaning.
“if you asked me what i came into this world to do, i will tell you i came to live out loud.” (émile zola)
the light lit up the sky, a golden glow in a fog toward the heavens. it is one of the chicago botanic garden’s iconic displays, this tunnel of light, begging you to look up, be wrapped in its light, acknowledge the goose bumps. the luminous winter cathedral drawing people toward it. they stood, marveling, they strolled slowly, they posed for photographs, the millions of starry twinkling lights enveloping all.
i’m not much for cathedrals, really. i never have been; it’s nothing new. while i can appreciate their stunning beauty and the incredible feat it often took to build or install, they have never brought me closer to faith than any other place…outside, in the presence of others, at the piano, alone in wonder.
in my life – and in three and a half decades of my work life – i have found churches to not only house beauty. i have found churches to also house ugly. and so, i was relieved to read the words of john pavlovitz. it is important to distinguish the difference – the building is not God. and, sometimes, the best place to find the supreme deity you are seeking – no matter the name, no matter the denomination or affiliation, no matter the book of written word – is not in a place, not in a building.
the people – so many gathered there – under the arch of the winter cathedral seemed softer. the glow of light on their faces, they moved slower, offered to photograph others, gazed up. just as a community of people in a church often do, they seemed to come together, one of the benefits of “the building”. but, as i have found time and again – and, if we are to speak truth – those benefits sometimes run out. and people within become consumed by that which would never be considered a basic tenet of faith – the hypocrisies of power and control and discrimination and subjugation and competition, toxic things that “[don’t] feel like Love anymore”*.
as i walked under the night sky i knew that the cathedral would be close to the last installation on the guided path. i steeled myself for its overtones, even with its undeniable beauty.
we stood back and watched people enter it. in awe. it is truly glorious.
we approached and there was this tiny voice inside my head naysaying “church” to the other tiny voice exclaiming “wow”. both.
yet ethereal was there and it shone down on us as we walked through to the other side. and then we were once again under a night sky, full of stars we could see and stars we couldn’t see. just like faith.
“you are fully freed to run into the wide open spaces of this world, and to experience life and faith and beauty in ways you never thought possible…”*
i wonder if the tree looked in the mirror and counted rings, pondering the impetus behind each one, the reasons for the wrinkles of years, ever-forming, ever-widening. it is doubtful that the tree gazed, searching the rearview mirror for clues, connective tissue, remembrances of angst or sublime moments. it seems more likely that the tree just accepted each concentric ring, the truth of time. it seems more likely that the tree recognized the steady strength it gained for each ring, the rootedness each ring-wrinkle brought to it.
it would seem that this could be a good lesson from nature for us. the natural, raw, untouched passing of time shown on our faces, each beautiful in aging. we could acknowledge the years and the easy and the hardships. we could bow to the accumulation of moments, time flying by as we gather minutes in our embrace. we could turn toward each other, accepting and without judgment, full of grace and care, measuring only our love for each other, unbiased by wrinkles or rings, color or patina. we could tenderly touch the faces of our beloveds and marvel.