Labor Day weekend. Wow, seems like the summer flew by. Last week we traveled up into the edge of Olympic National Park to camp a few days, and then rushed back so I could meet up with my friend Amy to spend a few days in the Cascades at Breitenbush. 18 hours of driving to be one with nature for 88 hours including sleep time is probably not the best plan I ever had, but it was wonderful all the same.
Being on the west side of the Olympics, with the beloved coastal trees – Western Hemlock, Sitka Spruce, Western Red Cedar, Big Leaf Maple, Red Alder – all covered in dripping moss, Elk showing themselves – and then melting back into the forest, a huge toad hunting at night at our campsite, a phosphorescent stump, the soothing sounds of the Queets River, and rocks that declare love. It was pretty sweet, though short.
Breitenbush is a big heart place for me. I have been going for over 20 years, ever since visiting my friend Leslie who worked there in the 1990’s. It is run by a worker coop, and the land is held in loving care by that community. The hotsprings and delicious food, the Ravens, tall Douglas Firs, Incense Cedars and the Breitenbush River, whose waters eventually flow past my house as one with the Mighty Columbia. Amy was teaching a nature appreciation class, which I joined. We stacked rocks, climbed trees, watched shooting stars, and in general took time to recognize all the ways we connect to the land.
The healing power of connecting to nature is well documented. (Here is an article that links to some studies.) Yet how is it that even though I know this, have experienced it, and I live within wildness – surrounded by beauty, so often I find myself constricted down into a small human world? While in Amy’s class we thought about what our barriers to connecting to nature are, and how to create more opportunities to connect up. Basically how to slow down, even be idle in order to go wild. Being mindful of the the seductive power of the SCREEN is a good place to start for me. Part of traveling away from the reach of cell phone, and the internet is being reminded to reclaim time in which to be more fully present even when those things are available.
One breakfast while at Breitenbush I ate alone. While alone with my plate I realized that having a meal gratitude practice has somehow slipped away. Spending time at meals conscious of the gift the food on my plate is another opportunity too often missed by me. Just thinking for a moment where my food comes from, enriches the experience of eating immensely. To connect with life is available at every moment, we have only to turn our attention to it.
Remembering to be present to nature while I walk is another low hanging fruit. So often I am all wrapped up in my brain, far far away from the path beneath my feet and the sky above my head. Gazing up at the vast beautiful Milky Way – and seeing the bright flash of shooting stars while at Breitenbush, it was a reminder of how tiny we are, on our miracle of a blue planet spinning through the cosmos. We lay on the lawn near the lodge looking up, while others walked by wrapped within their own conversations and concerns, and I thought how lucky to be in a place dark enough to see stars, and lamented just a bit the many times I have been out at night beneath a starry sky and failed to look up and notice.
It all boils down to noticing. The film Harold and Maude contains many references to the joys of just noticing, and the miracle inherent within even the smallest most humble of living things, like a single daisy in a field of daisies.
Maude: I should like to change into a sunflower most of all. They’re so tall and simple.
What flower would you like to be?
Harold: I don’t know. One of these, maybe.
Maude: Why do you say that?
Harold: Because they’re all alike.
Maude: Oooh, but they’re not. Look. See, some are smaller, some are fatter, some grow to the left, some to the right, some even have lost some petals. All kinds of observable differences. You see, Harold, I feel that much of the world’s sorrow comes from people who are this, [she points to a single daisy] yet allow themselves be treated as that [she gestures to a field of daisies].
So as I will spend this holiday weekend reacclimatizing to being home, doing laundry, wooing my cats to forgive my abandonment, and whatnot, I will take some time to reconnect with the wildness that surrounds me. To be idle in this moment as we transition from summer into fall. To notice the birds that are gathering to go and wish them well on their journey south. Perhaps I will eat a few handfuls of lingering blackberries, paying close attention to each one’s juice, noticing how they each taste different with a terroir shift between vines growing just a few steps distant from each other. I will keep in mind that nature is always sending us love notes, and receive them with gratitude, whichever miraculous form they take.