Thursday, May 11, 2017

A few feet, a few days, a big difference #phenology

The local, feral, lilacs have just started to develop flowers. I checked the same local bushes that I've visited for the past several years now, but yesterday the path I took went to the South of a few cedar trees, not even enough to call a grove. For previous visits, I'd gone by the cedars on their North side. Candidly, because of where I've parked in the past, I'd had no reason to look for an alternate path, except...

prairie smoke (Geum triflorum)
Photo by J. Harrington

Except that meant I'd never noticed, until yesterday, the clusters of prairie smoke growing near the South side of the cedars. Plus, in past Springs, I've often done only drive-by looks until later in the season, when lilac flowers were at or past peak bloom. By then, it's entirely possible the prairie smoke blossoms had come and gone. I'll never know, but, once again I've been reminded that, just because I think I'm being mindful and paying attention as I walk woods, fields and streams, or talk with frends and family, doesn't necessarily mean I'm following Mary Oliver's advice, from her poem Sometimes,
4.

Instructions for living a life:
Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it.

Gary Snyder offers similar guidance in his poem Piute Creek,
A clear, attentive mind
Has no meaning but that
Which sees is truly seen.
Trying to pay close attention all the time can be exhausting, especially if we haven't taught ourselves how to do it. Sitting zazen may help, as can reading poetry, if we read slowly and carefully, instead of skimming to get it done. Also, as with almost any exercise, we can build stamina by daily practice, a bit each day, and then a bit more until we can do it almost all the time. It's how to be present in the moment, isn't it? Distracted living can be as hazardous as distracted driving. Done properly, paying attention helps us see what's right in front of us, even if it doesn't immediately seem as wonderful as prairie smoke flowers.

Current



I’m careful where I step. Water ripples
greenish blue against hot sand; pebbles mixed
with quartz grains and pine needles, sharp
amid the duff, blown down from the
upper stories of the sugar pines
clumped along the beach. Kids falling off
paddle boards into the cold lake, voices
like stretched brake linings in the dry air.
A geometric rim of mountains in the
near distance. A few geese
float detached on the current. Beside
us a family under a mesh canopy
speaks English and Russian.
I love the present with its layers
of seconds faceted like sparks
hammered off the glinting surface.
I want to stay here endlessly,
standing at the convergence of sand and water
while we watch them sequestered
under the clutter of branches, breathing
suntan lotion. I dread the future, yet it arrives
little by little. Knowingly we disappear into it.
Our bodies dissolve molecule by molecule
swept out to the edge of the intangible,
where light is compressed  into blackness.
Where red ants crawl in their columns across
rotting earth, leaving no more
than a trail of resin behind.


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