White Canyon Wilderness Wander

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Canyon Mouth, A. Sato

I spent a lazy Sunday wandering through White Canyon Wilderness, a hidden heaven not too far from Phoenix. No goal. No fitness hike. Just a lot of puffy clouds, silence, and the chance to soak in another beautiful view.

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White Cliffs, A. Sato

The best part of slowing down is taking the time to notice what you don’t when you are keeping pace on a long hike.

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A. Sato

Small flowers, delicate blades of native grass, unusual markings etched among rock, moss, and lichen, a hidden petroglyph…these are the findings that can only emerge into vision in idleness.

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I am taking the time to find God in small things. Her beauty is in the intricacies and eloquence of the understated and unnoticed.

 

 

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Beauty

I was perusing one of my old dating sites and looked at the “online now” list. I noticed that there were several women online, and each and every one of them was beautiful. Young and old, all races and ethnicities, all sizes. Each of them were gorgeous. I found myself admiring them and thinking, “Look at all of these amazing, beautiful women. How can you not love any one of them!”

It occurred to me that I looked at the men on the list with entirely different eyes. I looked at them with specific criteria I want to fill, and therefore didn’t see them as beautiful the way I see the women. Isn’t it true, that when we seek something specific, when we see someone through the lens of scrutiny we rarely see what is before us?

I was discussing with a friend of mine about turning 40 and how our objectives have changed in a mate. While physical attraction is important, it becomes less so in lieu of more noble traits like wisdom, generosity, stability, and kindness. On this, we both nodded in agreement. We have been equally chagrined about all of the men our own age who won’t date women within their age bracket. Surely these guys are following some patriarchal, superficial urge to possess younger women.

But this little adventure in online dating has me second-guessing myself. Have I matured into a different kind of love, or am I still bound by the seasons and pheromones, expectations and lust of romance? Am I caught up in the drivers that cause me to dismiss “the old”, “the ugly”, etc.?

Attraction and beauty seem at odds; they seem to compel and repel each other.

Is there a way to break that spell?

 

Live Each Moment…

 

 

Perhaps it is the two-day stomach flu bug that brings to mind mortality? Whatever the cue, I have been thinking about the cliché expression, “Live each moment as if it were your last” and realizing the absurdity and glibness inherent in this concept.

If I were to live each moment like it was my last, what would I do? I can start by telling you what I wouldn’t do:

  1. sit in an office
  2. listen to people I think are full of crap
  3. pick up dog poop
  4. pay bills
  5. feel obligated
  6. drive the speed limit
  7. worry
  8. argue

The list goes on and on. If it were my last – very last – moment, I would probably spend it somewhere under a canopy of cottonwood trees with people I love. Now, before you tell me I am being too literal, I point to the obvious number of references to “last moments on earth” with movies like the Bucket List and songs – sad, country saccharine songs – such as Live Like You Were Dying. Both follow the same conclusion that – given each moment was akin to our last – we would do the extreme, adrenaline-rush stuff we normally shy away from but secretly fantasize about. And, we do fantasize about final days in the arms of secret lovers, pirates, pilots and poets (consider the millions of dollars we spend on these themes)… Or we fantasize about being in those roles: of power, of intrigue, of mystery.

Maybe therein lies the crux of this quandary: Fantasy.

I once read a wonderful quote by a German author (whose name escapes me) that goes something like, “Before we can change the nature of our reality, we must change the nature of our fantasies.” I read this quote back when I lived out most of my fantasies in a reckless cacophony of bar music and road trip soundtracks. I did not live for much more. I had experienced life devoid of happiness, and with the most modest flicker of hope, and I was more than intent to live each moment FULLY and completely. But, I wasn’t happy, and I am not sure those moments – while sensual, reckless, or adrenaline-rich – were meaningful, other than in the life lessons they provided. My fantasy of happiness was a myth made in the lonely room of a lonely young woman. I had no basis of how to live the moment. I lived a fantasy day, a mirage on the sands of my twenties. My moments were blurred out, distinguished only by passing time.

I now am 38. I have bills, responsibilities, a job, a husband… a yard from which to pick up dog poop and lots of people to listen to, for whom I have little interest or respect. These annoying burdens in life seem to be experienced by all of us who decide to live something more than our own fleeting mirage of fantasy freedom. Of course, it is not all dreary and not all jobs are created with the capitalist system in mind… better than a job; some have a place, a purpose. With these responsibilities come the rewards, or outcomes. A house and yard, or a yurt, or a caravan will provide a nest, a place to raise kids or animals, and give shelter to a family of people who gather there. A spouse becomes one’s dearest, most cherished friend and ally. A job – like my own – can become a source of connection to other missions, people and concepts. Purpose provides the means by which we navigate our role in the world. But it isn’t fantastic, and it isn’t always something we would choose to do in our final hours.

More than fantasy and adventure, and more than structure and function, we simply need the space and willingness to be. How many of us ever, when asked, “What are you doing?” respond with a heartfelt, confident: “Nothing.” We suffer from an addiction to function and purpose, and when not engaged in function and purpose, we are defining our function and purpose either through colloquial dialog or in some mental health / pop psychological way.

So in the last moments… how would I be? What would I want?

There is no answer to that question, of course. The reality is most of us spend a lifetime being busy and, when we reach a point of sickness or very old age, we simply do what we have been doing all along, what we know, what we find comfort in doing until we can no longer do it. Then we go. I will no doubt do the same.

If there’s a soundtrack for this path of least resistance, I think it would be understated, modest and beautiful. The memory of a child’s voice, the sound of oak leaves moving under a slow, spring wind, the breath of our beloved dog at the foot of the bed, crickets near a lake, piano practice, the one we love making coffee. This is the music of moment. This is the way we live them out, one by one, each moment, until we are done.

Interconnected forms of solitude

I have been doing a lot of thinking about solitude. What is it about being alone that is so frightening? I had hoped to write a thoughtful post on the topic today, a reflection on the nature of solitude: others’ and my own…. But I am still stuck in the emotion – the visceral kick and groan of the emotion.

Things happened today while considering aloneness. First, I found a dead bird under my office window with no visible signs of trauma. The phone kept ringing all morning, but only static was on the other line when I’d answer. I was also very, very sleepy and it seemed like everything – stroking the cat, editing poems, cooking, yoga, working, driving, watering the plants – had a lull-whisper, a soporific effect. I walked through the day like Dreamtime – whip-tailed lizards of ideas slipped in, then disappeared behind shadows before I could discern their message.

What I gather from this is perhaps I need to be with solitude a little while longer before I dare to decipher its meaning. I am a novice in its presence, a new baby to the distance. I need to observe more. I need some time to know the stranger that resides here.

Recognition

Each morning I am greeted by a family of cactus wrens that have taken up residence in the cholla near one of my garden beds. The fledglings have a particular interest in the herb bed because the drip line provides a sort of sprinkler system. I can imagine their delight on a day of intense heat to have the chance to cool off under the basil, where steady drops of water splash down. This particular side of the house is what I refer to as the Zen Garden as it is one of the few truly shady places in the xeriscaped yard. It’s common to find the neighborhood cats here, lounging on one of my recently planted beds of beets and greens (ahem!), also enjoying the fledglings. I suspect with a nefarious agenda in mind.

Spending time outside in the city affords few opportunities to catch sight of some of the larger wildlife I was used to seeing back East. I remember, while working for a nonprofit in Toronto, a part of the summer morning chores, just before unlocking the office, was to grab an old ladder and walk back to the parking lot, where masked rascals awaited rescuing. Our neighbor, a sports bar, used open garbage bins that invited nearly every raccoon in the nearby ravine for a tasty, free meal. Unfortunately, getting into the bin was a heck of a lot easier than getting out. And, during the summer months, when temps reached into the high 90s, this was a dangerous place to be stuck. Inevitably, upon making my way to the bins, there would be a few young raccoons waiting for me, paws upward, ready to cling to the lower rung, climb, plop, and scamper back to their ravine home.

Other occasions would allow me to come uncomfortably close to skunks, rats and the usual park-dwelling coyotes. (Oddly, I saw more coyotes while living in Toronto than I have in the desert.)

Since moving to Phoenix, my senses have had to become honed to tune in to less obvious species and the stories they have to share– the funny daredevils, the Gila woodpeckers, and how they enjoy a sip from the hummingbird feeders, despite the awkwardness of perching. The pugilistic thrashers and how they hop from self-designed hole to self-designed hole, looking for tasty bugs. The bats that seem less ominous against the desert skyline than in the crevices of bridges. Even the lizards that used to startle me have made their way into my morning observation and have me questioning whether I need to get rid of all the dreaded Bermuda grass, which provides them with shade and protection.

These companions of mine, whose lives are shorter and perhaps more precarious in comparison, are full of being. I am unsure if I need to worry about what life, theirs or mine, means as much as witnessing it each morning, honestly and without judgment. With a pure heart, they go about their day; I go about mine.