Do you feel this holding of breath? The desire to exhale? Do you feel this headwind that holds us aloft? At last 2020 is coming to an end with all the weight of loss, tragedy and turmoil, and with all the uplifts of love, hope and goodness.
Note how the kingfisher beats her wings in rhythm with the river’s roll. Her hover is like this moment–balanced between the end and the beginning. She holds her gaze steady on the clarity of water below. Her entire being is in this moment of possibility. The glimmer of a silvery fish signals her headfirst plummet. There’s no holding back.
There’s no holding back if we care about the Red-breasted Nuthatch that clings upside down on the suet out the window as I write; if we care that rain is falling where there should be snow; and if we care about all who are without shelter–people and wildlife alike.
The problems of our world are so immense. What can one person do? And what if all we secretly want to do is to find joy, to play, and to escape into the places that allow us to dream–in books, in nature, and with our closest friends and family?
In the words of E.B. White, author of Charlotte’s Web:
“If the world were merely seductive, that would be easy. If it were merely challenging, that would be no problem. But I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.”
That’s a mighty desire to improve the world, and one that can feel mighty daunting. And then I remember another adage in this place of pause. We are not alone. The winds that buoy us are like many hands.
As Chickasaw poet Linda Hogan reminds us, everything we do is about relationships. We are as interconnected as mycelium on the roots of ancient trees tapping out messages to kin underground.
In Hogan’s words, “The participants in a ceremony say, “All my relations” before and after we pray; those words create a relationship with other people, with animals, with the land.”
Relationships. Feel that synergy. Know that across the lands and waters are kindred spirits offering their ways of giving while appreciating the sway of a tree or the lilt of a song. Know that there is also great strength in our numbers and that our efforts are powered by love.
Know that nature nourishes us every day if we take time to open our senses to what’s outside. Enjoy that which fuels us–like sweet nectar for a butterfly flitting among a rainbow of wildflowers, or in this time of year–sparkling crystals upon a snow angel by the ski trail.
Far from Oregon in Vermont, my friend and writer Sandra Murphy recently explored the meaning of the word, enough: “When I look out on the day now, Venus has disappeared again, this time into the pale blue cloth of sky. Peach-bottomed clouds drape the shoulders of Mount Abraham, backlit by the coming sun. The brook below my window hums a duet with the wind in the treetops. What a feast. Enough.”
Many of us have experienced “enough” when the pandemic forces us to stay close to home and within the safety of the outdoors. Sir David Attenborough described discoveries in his tiny backyard he had never noticed before. I savored a “Boots on the Trail” blog that featured a photo for every month of the year on the same hill, each image revealing something new.
Renee Patrick expanded the definition of home in her thoughtful piece about thru-hiking on the new Blue Mountains Trail and becoming native to places one step at a time. She wrote: “To thru-hike is to know a place intimately, to know many places intimately. Experiencing the landscape at a three-mile an hour pace is to absorb the folds and tucks of a mountain ridge, to feel the change in air patterns as you drop into a drainage that flows through eons of rock and shifting fault lines. When I’m hiking, I feel like I am home, and for most of humanity, this was literally home. We lived so close to the trees and wildlife that we viewed them as family, and I am starting to as well.”
By becoming intimate with place, we see how each of our actions add up one home and yard and trail at a time, like planting pollinator gardens, pulling invasive weeds, and picking up litter. We find strength and even the joy of action locally, nationally, and globally for the big changes that are truly exciting, from the Green New Deal (that mobilizes American society to 100% clean and renewable energy, guarantees living wage jobs, and a just transition for workers and communities in the next ten years) to Ranked Choice Voting and passing legislation to protect threatened wildlife, wilderness, wild rivers, and our big and elder trees and forests.
Take a deep breath. For right now on this cusp of the new year, linger in the moment of betweenness. If I could inhabit my Belted Kingfisher muse in that act of flying in place, I would try to extend the hover as long as possible. What better way to examine the union of sky and water and the dazzle of light? Slow down. Pause. Let this rushing mind pool in still water. And then? Dive. Emerge cleansed with or without a fish. Exuberant. Ready for 2021.