No one is on the street.
When the sun lights up the air before me it is alive with pollen and dust which settles into the cracks of the asphalt like a golden mend.
I find a log by the creek, eat a couple pieces of toast from a paper sack in my pocket, then paint the forest. The sun shifts the colors as I work. Green and gold trees emerge from black shadows.
When my hands are cold I pack up my paint and walk into the woods where some earnestness finds me in the early angled light. As if all my life my body wanted this one thing: to wake at dawn—to paint trees.
And all this time I’ve been making a nice breakfast instead.
The streets are quiet as I walk to the creek. I hurry through the ugly underpass, remembering a time when I loved the city and its grey places of decay.
In the woods, the sun lights up the bends of the creek where I sit on a log and draw two trees.
It’s not the forest’s fault I forgot how to love an urban eyesore.
On the way home a crow is in the underpass throwing his ingracious voice into the amplified cavern. I take a moment to consider the stately cement columns caught in the sideways light, then startle when a shadow slips along the street from the sidewalk above.
Who better than a loud crow to revive the glamour of an ugly underpass?
The other day I woke up on the couch after a nap and felt like an adult suddenly. Like my spirit was intact in my body, settled into my life choices and needing only to continue along on this amazing adventure with complete trust in my capableness.
Eventually I had to get up to shower and prepare for the next day and the feeling faded. But for a couple days after I felt unrushed, content to do the dishes by hand, eager to clean the bathroom because it’s such a rewarding task. Also, the hot-pink blow dryer I bought on sale was no longer a disappointment because it is useful even if garish.
I remembered my hermit days and how I loved to cook and wash the dishes. How one day a week I cleaned my apartment and it was my favorite day. It seems so charming until I remember how depressed and lonely I was.
I wonder if I can extract that mindful element of enlightenment philosophy and carry it with me on this inward journey into the depths of an engaged life.
I don’t see why not.
I consider Landscape Diaries and how it started out as an attempt to remove the idea of a boundary between my psyche and nature. What if I also removed the imaginary boundary between nature and my indoor habitats—my job, my home, my endeavors, other people?
We are all still mammals. Everywhere we go is our habitat, everything we do is part of our nature but there’s no reason not to seize the opportunity our divided brains give us to cultivate the best parts of our nature, to make habitat for ourselves that supports our beauty instead of anxiety and isolation.
I have no idea how I’ll do this, but I am up for the adventure.
The sirens wail as I sit by the black window in my little square of habitat after visiting the woods. I stopped there on the bus like I do every free evening now that it’s still light out. It’s easy to walk the whole trail thinking about whatever worries me that day.
But every tiny moment of noticing the craggy bark of the trees and the deepening shadows along the creek while a song sparrow dives across the trail like a shadow itself or a robin chuckles above is reason enough to keep coming.
The world is such a big and lonely place when I don’t listen to the wind through the trees or hear how the gravel along the road home is starting to sound like summer.
The siren fades as the fire engine makes its way through the dark neighborhood to save some other soul.
It’s been a long time since I hiked past Mulkey Ridge to Fitton Green so I am determined to make it today despite not having slept well. For once it wasn’t stress that kept me up, but the moon. The silver light thought the open window turned my skin to silk while the rain wrapped my body in the warmth of its steady cadence. That solitude can overflow with such tenderness is a wonder I won’t sleep through so I watched the round moon through the window as the oak in the distance stood still in the same light and the curtains held the space in just the right grey.
On the way back I come to a low, split-log bench with no back and lay down, grateful to rest and admire the sky through the rugged winter branches. A little later I wake to the papery rattle of ferns right next to me. Above me the pendulous moss hanging in the evergreen bobs in the same breeze and its strangeness brings me into the magnitude of life in space. What a fortune to be on this one little bubble of air, water and minerals with a molten core and a tilted spin that holds us all fast on a pile of rocks, each one the just the right grey.
There are flowers opening in the woods this morning
My favorite creek-rock is bare where it used to hold old leaves and the path sports new sprigs of grass along its edge.
It is prickly-cold still but the one pink Salmon Berry blossom in the brambles lets me shed grandiosity like an old, ratty cloak.
Love was never something to earn anyway.
It is the Ruby-crowned Kinglet hopping about in the branches by the trail while birdsong fills the wood to its edge.
It is walking in the company of trees through the exquisite winter chill, each step blooming with the richness of being exactly like this.
The trees are back-lit, flaring green-gold around their mossy edges in the morning sun while the silvery fog mutes the dark pines and turns the brown leaves crimson.
The Pacific Wrens are singing again. One perches on the blunt end of a stick by the trail in his brown and ocher body just pumping air from his lungs into sound like it’s a contest to win. He jumps onto the ground and becomes smaller than mice.
My mind has it’s own song, mulling over small conflicts in variations no matter how much I lose interest in them. But then the sound of black wings fills my head as a Pileated Woodpecker sails past to land on a tree and drum.
A raven croaks across the way and suddenly I notice the sound of water dripping out of the spongy moss into the mud all around me.
Down the trail a ways an old man passes wearing a faded raincoat he must have bought 40 years ago and I wonder what he has learned about love during its life. I don’t ask. Instead I stop and admire the marsh and its broad strokes of color in the middle of the green forest.
Above in the branches a robin sits so still I almost don’t notice.
The oaks seem extra lumpy after the rain, their mossy coats catching the cloud light and shimmering green-gold. I climb the ridge stopping here and there to look at the scenery. I’ve been wanting to do this hike for months. Now that I’m finally here I’m so engrossed in mentally rearranging my priorities I’m barely noticing the surrounds.
I’ve been replacing my quest for spiritual truth with the thing I love most—communing with nature. Perhaps today would be a good time to reckon with the fact that not every walk in the woods is going to be a deep experience. That it’s OK to sometimes be distracted while the shadows crisscross the pale bark of the pines and black-tailed deer slip up the slope carrying the silver light back to the top of the ridge on their shiny coats.
To miss the acorn woodpeckers chasing a flicker from the dead oak, full of acorn-size holes that keeps their stash. Or the Bewick’s Wren who lands in a bush off the trail and buzzes. To not notice that two Spotted Towhees scattered from the same place on the trail on my way out and back.
Eventually there will be the moment when I come to—when the sun breaks slowly through the gray and the forest light turns nostalgic and orange, gleaming crimson off the carpet of purple and brown leaves.
I sit on a log to watch and consider what it even means to commune with nature. Empty and wound-tight, I wonder, what do I offer in return?
On the way back three wild turkeys plod down hill through the ferns and sticks, their wattles a striking cadmium against the greens and browns. Another group of black-tailed deer bound downhill and out of sight.
It is such a privilege to be among them, privy to their beauty, wondering over their inner workings.
What can I give back? A chance to scatter? A great emptiness in which to store wonder?