Verdant

The summer of 2017 has been a mild one here in southwestern Virginia, even now, in mid-August. There’s been enough rain but not too much. Temperatures have been temperate, with a tinge of cool in the air most mornings and evenings, and a light breeze to counter the sun’s warmth in the afternoon. The dominant color of my two-a-day walks with Dash has been green. However, that single and admittedly accurate word hardly begins to capture the kaleidoscopic diversity of leafy hues along this one-mile stretch of suburban trail.

The cusp of back to school has reminded me that Mother Nature’s wardrobe of shamrock, fern, mint, moss, pine, and laurel will soon be replaced with goldenrod, pumpkin, and bittersweet tones. I love autumn but I want to make the most of the verdant season so my intention for this morning’s walk was to steep my retinas in green.

Do you have some favorite example of nature at her most gloriously green?  Share photos and comments below!

[Thanks to the following photographers for making their work available through the Creative Commons license: Andrew Cannizzaro, Emilian Robert Vicol, John, MiwokSonny AbesamisJudy Gallagher, Alix May, Stuart Williams, Sonny Abesamis, and Racineur.© 2017 Sidewalk Zendo. Reprints welcomed with written permission from the author.]

Perfectly Imperfect

Now that summer is in full swing there are fewer flowers vying for my visual attention along the deeply shaded section of the Huckleberry where Dash and I walk. Since I’ve learned it’s good to set an intention prior to these excursions, I decided to spend the morning wabi-sabi spotting.

A counterpoint to the conspicuous consumption that had become the prevailing aesthetic of 15th century Japanese culture, wabi-sabi (侘寂) is the art of seeing beauty in imperfection.  In other words, it’s the antithesis of standardized, assembly-line, up-to-spec production for a mass audience that came to prominence in the 20th century.

Wabi-sabi is in the eye of the beholder, a singular perspective. Since my phone is the only camera I own, however, and I don’t like to bring a digital device along on these walks, I’ve included the work of other photographers below to demonstrate the kind of beautiful imperfection to be found in a remnant hardwood forest that meanders through the suburbs of a small university town in southwestern Virginia…

Care to share some of your own examples of imperfectly perfect nature?  Use the comments section below!

[Thanks to the following photographers for making their work available through the Creative Commons license: Dietmut Teijgeman-Hansen, Lisa Brown, Yogendra Joshi, Alyson Hurt, geopungo, bobistravelingVivian Evans, cobalt123, Damon Charles, saiberiac, and Phillip Winn© 2017 Sidewalk Zendo. Reprints welcomed with written permission from the author.]

Trunk Show

Walking my usual route along the Huckleberry Trail this morning I suddenly found myself in the midst of a herd of towering, leafy forest elephants. Maybe my brain was processing memories from a trip to South Africa a couple of months ago but every tree trunk on either side of the blacktop trail morphed into pachyderm legs and trunks, and I became a playful, protected youngster weaving in and out of the columned citadel they created.

It wasn’t technically a be-here-now experience but I was definitely in a flow state — completely absorbed in the timeless moment, energized and calm but slightly disoriented. It was as if the world had wobbled on its axis and I tumbled into one of the thin places of Celtic mythology, where two worlds normally existing at a distance wander into close proximity… in this case, the Eastern Cape of South Africa superimposed onto the New River Valley of southwestern Virginia.

Shortly after I made the commitment to pay attention on these twice-daily walks through the same familiar terrain, I began to understand it’s never really the same place from one day to the next, or even from morning to evening. Each excursion reveals a plant I hadn’t notice before, may not have been there before, or an animal I hadn’t know was living there…that’s been a delight but not a surprise. I knew when you take the time to look closely you’re bound to see more clearly. That was one of the reasons I undertook this mindfulness goal.

What I wasn’t expecting — never gave it much thought, really — is that each day’s experience is new, in part, because I am not the same from one day to the next, from morning to evening.  So it did come as a surprise during this morning’s walk to travel the same route and yet end up in a new place.

I guess Proust was right, “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”

[Thanks to the following photographers for making their work available through the Creative Commons license: David Rosen, Alex Kulikov, Mike, and Ruth.]

All the feels

Attention without feeling is only a report. ~ Mary Oliver

 

Mary Oliver has a knack for delivering large ideas in a small, economical word packets. I was inspired to return to Oliver’s work recently when I read a post on the expansively cross-disciplinary blog Brain Pickings. I find the quote above encouraging because, while Sidewalk Zendo is a chronicle of my attempts to pay attention to my life, it’s never been my intention to deliver a dispassionate inventory of the sights, sounds, smells, and experiences. Plus, it’s good to know I’m on the same wavelength as a writer I admire.

Reflecting on Oliver’s observation about attention, however, when putting words to page (or, more accurately, pixels to screen) for this blog I have a tendency to focus on the wonder, delight, beauty, and humor I see in the natural world. This may, inadvertently, give readers the sense that I am way more optimistic, centered, serene, and…well, evolved, than is actually the case.

Truth is, lots of feelings come up on these twice-daily walks with Dash, both positive and negative, often within the span of a few minutes.  For example…

I may start our stroll with gratitude for warm sunshine, cool shade, and a soft breeze to keep the gnats and mosquitoes away…

or joy at the bubbling, liquid notes pouring from a house wren’s throat (hey, I’m actually paying attention! I’m getting pretty good at this mindfulness stuff)…

 

 

then I’m distracted by a flash of anger when a cyclist who, headphones on and in the zone, doesn’t have the common courtesy to call out “on your left!” as a warning that he’s coming up fast and silent from behind.

 

 

Or I might be filled with hope for my fellow humans at the sight of resolute runner who smiles and pauses her workout to help an elderly neighbor with a walker retrieve sunglasses from the pavement so he won’t have to bend down and risk a fall…

only to round a bend in the path and have acid-green envy wash over me at the sight of someone younger, prettier, in better shape, probably all three, not to mention (I become more sure of this with every wretched passing second) smarter, spiritually evolved — in short, a more exemplary being than me in every imaginable way.

 

Another day I might be in a state of calm timelessness as I stop to investigate some natural feature, like a patch of small yellow flowers… could they be the same sour wood sorrel blossoms I used to nibble on as a kid?…

 

then, five minutes later, noticing the time and trying to hurry, I become impatient with my curious canine because he’s not cooperating, in fact he’s clearly stalling, trying to make this outing last as long as possible, even though some of us have, you know, a JOB, and yes, I realize Dash doesn’t know this, or maybe he does know and doesn’t care, but does he really have to stop and smell every single STUPID LEAF WE PASS?!!

Mary Oliver tells me it’s okay to feel ALL the feels, not just the spiritually preferable ones. “You do not have to be good,” she reassures…

You do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting. You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves. Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine. Meanwhile, the world goes on.

My first spiritual mentor taught me there are actually only two emotions: love and fear. We use a lot of different words to avoid admitting what we’re really feeling, Corina explained, but shine a searchlight into your heart and if what you see isn’t love, it’s fear. Skeptical scientist that I am, I’ve spent the past three decades testing her assertion, observing others and reflecting on my own behavior. I’ve yet to prove her wrong.

[Thanks to the following photographers for making their work available through the Creative Commons license: Troy B. Thompson, Dustin Gaffke, Simon Blackley, and Ted.© 2017 Sidewalk Zendo. Reprints welcomed with written permission from the author.]