It was low tide on a sunny day, and we ventured far out on the rocks, searching the life left by the waves. Hidden in the cracks, just visible here, we found thousands of tiny white mussels, fed by the surging waves that were channeled into the crevices between the granite boulders.
How did these tiny shelled creatures sense that here, and only here, they would be nourished by the very waves that threatened to destroy them?
For every ailment under the sun, There is a remedy, or there is none; If there be one, try to find it; If there be none, never mind it. ~Mother Goose~
This ramshackle house, about to collapse, with not one true-square corner to its credit, is how I wake up some mornings. Out of plumb, not syncing with the world I find myself in. My jokes don’t seem funny, even to me. My cat purrs and bites me at the same time. I stub my toe on the sidewalk edge I have stepped over hundreds of times before.
And then I have to stop and breathe. I’m fine. The world is fine. We will all make it through this life, together.
Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real, you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand. ~The Velveteen Rabbit~
I started the walk before dawn, collecting clouds as I went. Wispy ones darted in and out of the red rock formations; others nestled in puddles after midnight rains. The pine needles had felted into heavy mats that softened the ground beneath my feet. They created soft nests for windfalls of storm-blown pine cones.
The prickly pear cactus were loaded with buds of gray-green fruit that would swell to magenta chalices in the fall, luring families of javelina to gorge on the ripe fruit. I might walk down the road then and see scatterings of red seedy scat.
The Pyracantha were loaded with caper-sized green berries that would turn red later in the year, a bonanza for urbanized deer who would jump five-foot fences to gorge on the orange-red berries.
In the pre-dawn hush, the birds weren’t feeding, just quietly murmuring in the trees like a group of dorm buddies waiting for breakfast. The flies would wait until full sun, but the mosquitoes were active. A red welt swelled on my wrist and I picked up the pace.
As the sun burned the morning air gold, a male cardinal swooped from a shaggy-bark juniper, its feathers a carmine red. In the scrub oak, a nearby rival acted serenely unimpressed.
Overhead, a phainopepla’s black-and-white wingtips flashed semaphore signals as it landed, bending the top needle-branch of a pinion pine.
The dog walkers hadn’t arrived yet, but one skinny marathon runner adjusted a knee brace and jogged painfully down the hill. I waved to early morning construction crews who were setting up for the day’s work. A scruffy bicyclist wearing a military green scrub cap, old T-shirt and cargo pants puffed heavily as he made the hill top. He gave me a grin of co-conspirators, out in these early hours.
I shared the morning with the animals. A calico cat jumped from a stone wall for a scritch behind one ear. A gray Kaibab squirrel gleaned sunflower seeds from the feeder almost too high above its reach. A cottontail rabbit elongated its hops into leaps as I grew closer.
I didn’t have to own anything to be a part of that glorious morning, and yet I felt immensely wealthy.
The whole world spread before me, free for the taking, when I slowed down and paid attention to the gifts the day offered.
It was raining when I woke this morning. Not an electricity-charged toad-strangler, but a quiet rain, a thoughtful rain.
I considered not walking at all. I was cranky and stiff after a fitful night’s sleep. It had been a rough week and I still carried stress in my neck and shoulders.
But I grab an old fold-up umbrella and step into the morning damp anyway. The umbrella efficiently snaps open, but I discover two ribs have worn through ties at their tips, and the silk slides back up toward the apex of the crown.
No matter, I am off.
I look back at the house for a moment as I walk up the drive. The nandina bends against the storm, its branches first bowing to the weight of the rain and then springing upward as the wet drips away. Large drops from the eaves hit the porch rail and burst into dozens of droplets that fell to the ground below.
It is a day of novel movement and complex energy. A day of discovery.
I discover that my sight is muted, allowing hearing and touch to push to the fore. The turtle rain against the outside of the umbrella sounds a musical counterpoint, each note altered by the angle of the silk cover. I strive to capture the motif’s pattern as a larger drop hits like the final riff of an exuberant drummer.
Farther away, I hear the rain contacting each leaf of the trees I pass under. Hard. Then soft. Then brittle. Each drop echoes the texture of branch and leaf. A plane passes overhead, its roar muted to a growling rumble. As I stroll, I find that I am moving slower but seeing more. I start to center and my breathing deepens.
The rain blows into my face, softly misting my glasses, and I twirl the umbrella canopy on its aluminum shaft, trying to position the “short side” away from my face. My arms are getting damp, small drops clinging to the short hairs, then running down my forearm in larger streams. As I swing my arms, my fingertips encountered the rain concretely, each finger sharply pinged with rain.
Should I turn back? No, I decide. I can handle this. I won’t melt. I stiffen my back to the discomfort and trudged forward.
Patched asphalt on the road ahead becomes a series of black sightless mirrors that shatter in the wake of a car whooshing past. The car’s momentum scoops up mist from the road, creating a cloud entourage that scurries along underneath its carriage.
As I near one house two Springer spaniels rush to the screen porch in a howling frenzy. I’ve passed them many times before—maybe I have turned into a new creature under this umbrella?
In the mist, the color palette has shrunk to mostly grays and greens. Even the wildflowers—the red of penstamen and the wild white of daisies are dimmed by the rain, their energy cloistered. The sky lowers and the horizon shortens. As I notice more details, I find my mind slowing, calming. I consciously match the pace of the rain with my steps.
I find that I am in a much smaller world than yesterday. Yesterday was sunny, with winds and clear air and wide vistas. And that difference is fine. I seek shelter, here under the umbrella against the world’s hassles and demands. I can hide here.
The birds are hiding, too. The sparrows and finches are silent; the jays chatter in the tree branches, but don’t venture into the rain. Every so often a robin darts to the ground to snatch a grub, and then dives under the drier branches to eat it.
As I approach a small pond, our resident great blue heron takes flight. Usually I can pass quite close to him, but he, too, is spooked by this new shape of human-with-umbrella.
The algae on the water shivers under the onslaught of the rain, and I turn toward home.
The rain is collecting now on the trees overhead. Each leaf gathers rain differently: On a large deciduous trees, moisture runs along the center spine and collects as a drop at the tip of each leaf. Nearby, waxy Pampas grass spires allow each drop to poise unmoving in a mosaic of miniature puddles. In the field beyond, the smaller grasses bow before the rain’s influence like carefully combed hair.
As I near home, I realize that walking in the rain this morning has become a meditation, a gratefulness for gifts given. I stomp my feet as I enter the garage, and collapse the umbrella in a shower of drops.
I feel calmer, more centered.
It has been a good start for the morning’s work, this gathering of peace in the rain.
As a writer, I use the month of January to reorient my life after the craziness of the holidays. That’s when I plan what I want to do during the coming year and renew my resolution to be as nurturing to myself as I can be.
I visit these eight authors to find new inspiration for the coming year:
VICKI ROBIN. Even though each year I resolve to lower my holiday spending, I’m not always successful, and as a result January can be depressing! That’s when I turn to Robin’s seminal work, Your Money or your life. It’s been called, “the best book on money period.” I like it because it is practical and not preachy. It talks about the best ways to get out of debt, saving money through being more mindful, living well for less.
(Although the mountaintop wouldn’t be bad, either!)
PADRAIG O’MORAIN. Meditation calms me down and gives me clear thinking, which is absolutely essential for good writing. O’Morain is a master at giving ways to be more mindful, even on days when I am crazy-busy. According to the author of Mindfulness on the Go, inner calm can be found “on your morning commute, during your coffee break, or in line at the super market.”
And he’s right!
MIRIAM NELSON. Strong women stay young. Sometimes when the words are flowing, I spend long hours hunched over a computer keyboard, barely breathing, much less moving. I get up hours later moving like a jerky robot!
I’ve found much better way is to intersperse—with a timer set way across the room so I have to move—periods of writing with short bursts of physical activity.
Strong women stay young describes just six exercises using a straight back chair and a set of hand weights that can keep you limber, strong, and young.
I’m a stress eater and a comfort eater and a convenience eater when I’m on a roll, plotting a new novel. Set something in front of me and I’ll eat it. Especially if it contains caffeine or chocolate, or even better, both!
Michael suggests instead, “eat food, not too much, more plants.” I agree.
Finally, I’d like to leave you with a brand new one just out, The Healthy Writer. Joanna knows all too well the kinds of stress that creative people subject themselves to in the pursuit of their art.
Here she teams up with a medical doctor to give some practical tips for escaping the unhealthy habits we sometimes construct for ourselves.
A positive read!
And that’s my favorite eight writers on best practices that help me start my New Year in a nurturing way.
What about you? Who are you reading for inspiration right now?