Living in Season
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My Season: Doing One Thing at a Time
Until this week I didnt realize that I am usually unconscious of the world around me when I walk (unless I am deliberately looking for something to report as a sign of spring) because Im lost in thought. When I walk with awareness, I notice so much more: the swaying branches of the birch trees, the scatter of cherry tree petals in the grass, the fragrance of privet, the musty odor of the horse chestnuts.
Walking is a relatively easy place for mindfulness but other tasks have been revelations. Driving a car, for instance, without thinking about something else, takes me back to the days when I was learning to drive, experiencing the sheer pleasure of having this huge beast (I drive my mothers cast-off 1978 Ford Granada) respond to my commands. When its hard to stay in the present moment, I use the practice of naming what I am doing to keep me aware. I am turning the steering wheel. Watching the road. Stepping on the gas pedal.
I thought giving up multi-tasking would mean I got less done. Instead my life feels more spacious.
Blessings of slow time,
April Calendar Up
Living in Season: Pilgrimages and Picnics
Spring is the season for pilgrimages and picnics.
On the thirteenth day after Persian New Year (Spring Equinox), thats April 2 this year, Persians leave their homes before dawn and stay outside all day. It is understood that on this day, the spirits will have the run of the house in return for leaving the family alone the rest of the year. According to Elizabeth Luard this helps speed the spirits towards heaven.
Im not sure the weather will be nice enough to go outside Saturday (on Friday in Seattle we had the usual end of March wild weather two bursts of hail interspersed with sunshine) but Im already feeling the urge to spend more time outdoors and to plan my summer vacations.
Vacation is a funny word. As Jay Griffiths points out in her wonderful book about time, when you go on vacation, you vacate the place where you normally live and go off to someplace else, usually alone or with your nuclear family. She was contrasting that to the community-building nature of a holiday (or festival) which is celebrated at home with family and friends. But there is value in vacating the place, whether its to let the spirits dance in your house or for you to return and find the place is different because you have changed.
Right now, Im sorting through many options for my summer including yoga retreats, meditation retreats and vision quests. Im not planning a big trip this year. I have a sort of horror about being thought a tourist so I prefer vacations where I can stay in one place for some time and develop routines of comfort. So I loved spending six weeks in Aberystywyth on a summer study program sponsored by Olympic Community College, which was my last long trip. On my first day in town, I went to the local library, got a library card and took out 10 books which I set up on a shelf in my dorm room, thus recreating one of the comforts of home. I also savored my late evening soaks in a huge Victorian clawfoot bathtub which was located in a separate room on the floor below mine (all the other Americans took showers).
When I undertake a trip where Im constantly moving, (like my trip to South Dakota and Minnesota pursuing family history) I usually have a goal, a treasure Im hoping to gather. What inevitably happens, and I think this happens to all pilgrims, is that the journey rather than the destination becomes the treasure. The totally unexpected encounters the breakfast with the head of the country historical society at a café in Bison, South Dakota or showing up at the family farm during hay baling still linger in my memory.
I remember hearing about a traveler like me, rather shy and insecure about journeying to a foreign country, who was advised by a friend to look for one thing everywhere she went. I dont remember the story exactly I dont even recall the gender of the traveler so forgive me if I get the details wrong. This is how I remember it. The traveler chose apples and everywhere she went inFrance, she went to the local market and asked about varieties of apples, the conditions under which they grew and how they were cooked. She was invited to walk through orchards, to participate in the making and consuming of cider and feted with apple dishes of all kinds in private homes, simply because her interest gave her a way to connect with people.
I suppose you could say she was on an apple pilgrimage. Just as I was considering this topic for the newsletter, I learned that my brilliant webmistress, Joanna Powell Colbert, had written on the topic of pilgrimage and travel in her March 18th journal on her website.
In planning her upcoming trip, Joanna uses Phil Cousineaus definition of pilgrimage: a journey towards something that is sacred to you. But then she asks the question of how we can honor the sacred at home.
Many years ago I signed up for a pilgrimage led by Seattle therapist William Whittman to sacred sites in the city that honored water. I had just returned from Aberystywyth where with the help of local guide books I had tracked down sacred sites like standing stones and magic hawthorn trees, although I passed up the opportunity to spend the night on Caer Idris, from which one descends either a madman or a poet. I felt the sacredness of the land in Britain quite vividly (perhapsBritain is my spiritual home, certainly it is my literary home), but I was not aware of any sacred sites in Seattle. So I was intrigued by the chance to visit them.
Whittman himself was a transplant he had moved to Seattle from the Midwest and spent almost a year orienting himself to the new landscape, ferreting out special places. Perhaps it was this fresh perspective that helped him notice places I had taken for granted.
Our first site was a popular beach where I had often taken my daughter and her friends to swim. While sitting on the pier in silence, communing with the place, I realized that it had a joyful energy that no doubt attracted people. Or maybe it was the other way around the joy people experienced at Madison Beach added to the light energy of the place. Even more likely, the two played off of each other.
This site contrasted dramatically with a more northern beach on the same body of water (Lake Washington). At Magnuson Park, Whittman talked about how he experienced the nature spirits of the West as much grander in size and scope than those of other locations. I recognized that I had been trying to sense small beings (the little folk) and when I expanded my perception to take in the whole grand panorama of windswept lake and snow-covered mountain ranges before me, I got an impression of a grand, ancient, brooding energy,
I spent the subsequent year going on pilgrimage on the eight seasonal holidays to another sacred site that Whittman mentioned: an old cemetery within walking distance of my home. But you dont even have to go that far to find a sacred site. It might be a place youve created in your back yard or a particular tree in your neighborhood. When I was a child, I loved to walk to school a particular way so I could touch my magic tree, a gnarled fruit tree in a vacant lot, the only remnant of an abandoned home site, and possibly a tree that missed human contact and welcomed my loving presence.
John Tallmadge defines pilgrimage as homage to ones origins in landscapes of learning or transformation an aspect of reflection and witness that preserves the lands gifts by sharing them through stories. Thats certainly what hes done in his marvelous essays on his experiences in nature. He ends his book The Cincinnati Arch with this thought:
During this month of April, take some time to visit a sacred site or to immerse yourself in the refreshment of the wild.
On My Bookshelf: Nature WritingOn the Web: Making Magical Eggs
I heard David read a chapter from his forthcoming book, The Street Smart Naturalist: Field Notes from Seattle, at the Burke Museum almost a year ago and am eagerly looking forward to its publication in June.
Meanwhile Ive been enjoying books by Craig Childs and John Tallmadge. In The Secret Knowledge of Water: Discovering the Essence of the American Desert, Craig Childs writes about his quest for water in the desert landscape of the American southwest in language that is so stunning and poetic, it sometimes distracted me from his narrative. But I was left with vivid images of the power and beauty of the desert landscape and the ways water works in an arid climate.
John Tallmadge is also a lyrical writer but the language rarely gets in the way of his essays. I would compare him to Michael Pollan (Botany of Desire) in his ability to combine personal story with clear prose. I first read Cincinnati Arch: Learning from Nature in the City, about how he learned to appreciate the way nature shaped life in the city. Im currently enjoying Meeting the Tree of Life which offers a wider view of his development as a teacher and nature writer, beginning with his first trip along the John Muir Trail. He always interweaves philosophy and reflections from his favorite nature writers (Thoreau, Muir) with personal story and vivid descriptions of place.
Holiday Packet: May Day
The print version is $14; please allow 10 days for delivery. An email version is also available for $9. It will be sent to you as an attached Word file within 24 hours. Order at: Order here.
New Slow Time Class Beginning April 15
This twelve week course is designed to transform your experience with time,through a series of exercises and steps, which move you from seconds, through hours, days, weeks, moons, months, seasons, years and finally to the spacious arena of the night skies. You will learn:
Calendar Companion: Leaves from the Tree of Time
Every week for 52 weeks you will receive a brief email with a reflection on the qualities of the present time period and one suggestion, task or question that you can savor throughout the week.
Start whenever you like. When you order the Calendar Companion, you will receive the next week's calendar companion, along with an introductory email.
$20 for a year's worth of gentle reminders to help you stay aligned with natural rhythms. Click here to order, or to see a sample reflection.
Signs of Spring, Summer and Winter
Whereas Tammy from Santa Fe is still waiting for Spring. She wrote that it seemed Spring was arriving because the prairie dogs were finally out and about, But then we had a huge snow storm hit a week ago and we went from 60 degree weather back to below freezing, and we had another snow storm hit yesterday [March 25] . I check daily for signs of buds on the trees in my yard. There are a few nodes on the Japanese cherry trees outside, but normally by now they would have already had blossoms on them and even leaves starting to appear.
But it is Spring in some places. Elenya from Oakland reports that the early roses are blooming (along with early aphids!) and the orange and lemon trees are beginning to bloom. Smells are of late spring flowers alternating with sea breezes or offshore warm and dry winds.
While Hannah in Bismarck, North Dakota and her daughters were happy to see their first sign of spring: the first robin on March 29. By the following day, Hannah said they saw robins everywhere.
Is it Winter, Spring or Summer where you live?
I love getting a glimpse of the season in so many different places. Send me the signs of the season where you live, and I will post them here.