“Where and what your body is living is not where and what your attention is living.”
Nancy Colier, The Power of Off
The woman dressed in black shorts and a bright yellow t-shirt strode ahead of me on the trail to the creek. The magical bird song that I’d been listening to before I caught up to her was gone. In its place was an insistent business like voice asking the person on the other end of the line which stock he or she would recommend to take the place of the loser they had just sold. There was laughter, a few swear words. On and on it went. I noticed a flash of white leap through the brush to her left. A White Tailed Deer, as disturbed as I was by the unnatural sounds, moved out of the way quickly in order to find the peacefulness she’d been experiencing before the interruption.
I had encountered this woman once before on my morning walks at Ivy Creek Natural Area and began wondering if I should change my early morning jaunts to later in the day. But I loved to be there early in the morning before groups of other people arrived and my thoughts were taken up with human busyness. I enjoyed being alone in the forest and fields, fully present to what I was seeing and hearing in this world I mistakenly thought was untouched by technology.
I’m naive that way. When I’m in the woods I expect to be hear wood peckers drumming away on surrounding trees digging for their breakfast. Or watch a doe and her spotted fawn taking in the early morning sun as they graze the grass in the meadow. If I was very lucky, I might see a beaver swimming across the creek, its mouth filled with newly sprouted twigs and leaves. My attention would be as present as my body. The stress I would experience later in the day was no where in sight and my breathing was slow and deep. Being in the natural world has always been my salvation, keeping me sane in what often seems like an insane world.
I know there is no other path ahead that will lead me away from the intruder, so I turn back and look for a way around her. I find another path that ultimately takes me in a different direction. I won’t be heading for the creek which was my destination, but who knows what wonderful sights and sounds will fill my need for this short but sweet inclusion in a world not as taken with itself as the world surrounding this two hundred acre preserve.
When I start the morning here in the woods I know my day will be easier to navigate through than it would be if I had picked up my cell phone as I ate my breakfast. Without the phone spewing messages and emails some are expecting me to answer immediately, I will taste the freshness of blueberries, freshly picked strawberries, the tang of plain yogurt, and the sweetness of honey I drizzle on top. If I choose to turn the phone on all of that will be lost.
I think of that woman walking through the forest, talking on her cellphone, hearing only her own voice, seeing only dollar signs while missing the bright red cardinal flowers blooming along the trail. It seems to me that if she had made that call later, after her walk, her day might have a different ending. We all need to take time away from our busyness and immerse ourselves in places where we can be present and mindful of the world around us.
I’ve too often make the mistake of taking my cell phone outdoors when I sit on my patio. I might miss the hummingbird flitting through the garden if I’m engaged with emails. What do you miss when you let your cell phone take over the present moment?
Last week I said I’d be away and wouldn’t be posting a blog today. I’m supposed to be in a quiet location about an hour from here at a five day insight dialogue meditation retreat. Unfortunately I came down with the flu the day before I was supposed to leave and have been in bed ever since. I don’t do flu shots, but this dance with this nasty bug has me wondering if I should get one next fall when they are once again offered.
Except for a nasty cold after the first of the year, a UTI several weeks ago on a Saturday that took me to the ER, I’ve had a healthy winter. The hospital has a new system where you if you need to go to the ER you log in on line before you leave your home. They will tell you when to be there. I called at 3 PM and was told to be there at 5:30. I expected immediate treatment, but sat in the waiting room until 9:30, filled with folks, young and old with the flu and the very nasty Norovirus. I know that is where both Bill and I picked up this bug that has had both of us in bed for days.
While Bill is feeling much better and has slipped out for groceries, he still finds a need to take care of himself and not overdo. I was told of someone who had this bug for 3 weeks, because he went back out into the world too early and got sick again. I was told I’d be welcome at the retreat even a few days late, but though I am feeling somewhat better, I’ll take no chances and just stay put for the next few days. The retreat is over on Wednesday. No way am I going to make it.
For me it’s been five days of misery, yet despite my fight with a fever, a constant barking cough, a burning sore throat, and extreme dizziness, my head has been filled to the brim with writing ideas. On Saturday, I decided to put two nonfiction books aside that I’ve been reading. The first was, Dreamland: The true Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic, by Sam Quinones, which is hard enough to read when you’re feeling well. I’m not at all sure that I will ever finish it. It’s just too damned depressing. The second one that I truly love and will absolutely finish is, The Power of Off: The Mindful Way to Stay Sane in a Virtual World, by Nancy Collier. Who needs nonfiction when you can’t stand up straight, walk across a room without weaving back and forth like a drunk, and can’t breathe?
Both of those books are about addiction and though I don’t and never will take opiates, being addicted to the internet and the iPhone is something I admit to and resonate with. You’ll hear more about this in future posts. I find America’s addiction to all things technical an alarming addiction and a difficult one to break.
After putting those two books aside, I picked up Christina Baker Kline’s, new novel, A Piece Of The World. I loved her book, Orphan Train, and heard her talk at the Virginia Festival of the Book just a few short weeks ago. Her use of language, descriptive passages, and narrative based on hours of research into Andrew Wyeth’s relationship with Christina Olson, the woman in his most admired painting, Christina’s World is phenomenal. I’ve only just begun this book and my eyes get tired easily, so I read for short stretches. But her beautiful words tumble through my mind as I cat nap between putting the book down and picking it up again.
Yesterday, feeling better than I have in a few days, but still a bit fuzzy headed, I picked up, Natasha Trethewey’s book of poems, Native Guard. It won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 2007. I heard her talk about her work and poetry at a journaling conference I attended last May. The child of a racially mixed marriage, her poems “confront the racial legacy of her native Deep South.” Like Kline’s words, Trethewey’s verse is beautifully written, phenomenally descriptive of both place and emotion, leaving no doubt as to where you are and exactly what is happening.
With those two books tucked under the covers with me, I became inspired. It was the first time in a long while that I felt that I absolutely had to write something right then and there, as often happens when I read the words of exquisite writers, like these to women.
And realizing that April is National Poetry Month, I got it in my head to write a poem a day for the rest of the month. I missed April Fool’s day, because I was so sick, but maybe I can write two poems another day to make up for missing the first day of this new month. I immediately wrote the following poem.
Abed With The Flu
Four days in my sick bed
I sleep and read the time away
Sun wakes falls asleep again
The half-moon lends light to the dark
Fever comes and goes
First I’m cold then sweaty
The world stumbles along
Outside my door
My cough sounding dog-like
Brings flem to the surface
Encouraging my own song
Like these words
Stories I will tell again another day
Have you ever had the urge to write when you were sick or otherwise engaged?
For years I have claimed Watership Down, a novel by Richard Adams, to be my absolutely most favorite book in the world. Since then I’ve read many other fantastic books, including best sellers and others I would give my eye teeth to have written myself. So I decided to reread this old favorite to see if it still held up as one of the best. I first read it in the seventies, and fell head over heels for what many call an allegory. But it is also a great adventure story, and a great example of Joseph Campbell’s hero’s quest. In this case the heroes are rabbits fleeing the destruction of their habitat, seeking a place where they could live freely without interference from man’s destructive nature. It a was timely read, as the Endangered Species Act of 1973 was enacted one year after the book was published and habitat destruction was becoming a huge topic of discussion.
A month ago I ordered the latest reprint with a new introduction by the author, and dove into this amazing tale that is as timely today as it was back when it was first published. As we struggle with the new politics of our time, and the masses of human beings seeking a place of solace away from their war torn homelands, and the very possible demise of the Endangered Species Act, it is right on target again as an important read that has eased some of my anxiety and is helping me to maintain a more positive attitude in a world filled with gloom, the fear of our political situation, and the possible rise of a world we cannot imagine. While dystopian reads like Atwood’s, The Handmaid’s Tale, and Orwell’s, 1984, are selling like mad, Watership Down, is a calming salve in our acidic world.
Richard Adams ingeniously began crafting this story during a long car trip to entertain his daughters, when they asked him to tell them a story that they had never heard before. He continued putting the story together afterwards as he drove his daughters to school, improvising characters like Hazel and Fiver, the two main heroes, with personalities similar to those of friends and acquaintances. As he studied the habits of wild rabbits, he invented the Lapine language to take the place of words that do not exist in the any human language, like the word silflay, which means to go above ground to feed.
If you are looking for a story to get lost in this is one to choose, filled with love, compassion, bravery, and courage along with the chills and thrills of an epic journey.
I will be away next week and will return the following week with a new post.
P.S. After getting this post ready to be published, I read a brief article in the latest issue of Audubon Magazine, about the Endangered Species Act. The writer, Brian Palmer, noted that the Act would be challenging to repeal with About 90 percent of Americans in support of it. However, the powers that be will most likely whittle away the funds literally starving the ESA. This is something to watch.