“To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work.”
During a walk on the beach in Florida this winter, I came across a perfect conch. When my heart was feeling full, I glanced down and was lured by the contrast of the warm brown hues, the colors of caramel and bourbon, against the pale sand. I picked up the shell, letting its spiky contours rub against my hand, each row of nubs lining up with the creases of my thumb. The conch’s inner edge was smooth like polished granite and a rich brown. I carried the shell for a while and then set it on a bench to snap a photograph.
Had I been searching for a conch, I may have walked the beach for hours and not found one. But the sand between my toes was cool and dense, the sun cut the slight chill, the sound of calm surf mixed with the sounds of children playing and of gull song, and I saw the most beautiful family–mother, father, a daughter, and two sons, all dressed up as though they’d just come from a family portrait session or a wedding. Being present to the beauty of the moment drew the shell to me.
The other night at home in Colorado, feeding the dogs their dinner, I noticed the two bluebirds that follow my day surveying the scene from a neighbor’s tree. With the slope of the hillside on which the two houses sit, the bluebirds and I were at eye level, a few dozen feet apart. While my dogs chewed their kibble, a squirrel ran up the tree. The squirrel jumped from branch to branch, edging closer to the birds. Mrs. Bluebird continued to perch in the tree’s highest branch, Mr. Bluebird on a branch a few feet away. As the squirrel climbed higher, I began to fret. Would the squirrel attack Mrs. Bluebird? What did it want? The squirrel landed on a branch inches from the bluebird and watched her for several seconds. She sat intrepid. So did Mr. Bluebird. Much ado about nothing.
I picked up Baxter’s food bowl licked of crumbs and then checked the tree again. A bobcat now clung to a branch three or so feet from the happy trio. I checked for the telltale ears edged in black fur. I observed the sturdy legs and the stout build. I saw the bobbed tail for which the creature is named. Bigger and brawnier than a regular house cat, indeed a bobcat was perched in the tree thirty or so feet away. Our gazes met.
Perhaps interrupted by my presence through the window, the bobcat did not pounce at the squirrel nor the birds, though both are on a bobcat’s menu. The bluebirds flew away. The squirrel skittered to the next tree. The bobcat retreated back down the gathering pole, treading a line of landscaping railroad ties before heading out towards the ravine.
In both instances my ability to be present to the moment revealed the prize–a perfect conch and the rare siting of a bobcat.
I wasn’t always this way. I used to be up at 5:00 am, run the miles, swim the laps, work all day, walk the dog, work some more, get the raise, get the promotion. I used to be happy hours and book clubs and dinners and trail runs and hikes and train for a 10-K, a half-marathon, a triathlon, learn to teach yoga. I used to be renovate-the-house, make-over-the-furniture, cook the three-course meal from scratch, arrange the flowers, light the candles. The world is so big. So many people to meet. So many places to visit.
In all this busyness, was I gulping life or missing out? My answers to this question varied. Even wonderful things can clutter our lives when they become too many–when we’re too burnt out, too shut down, or following the wrong drum.
It’s a long story how I learned to do less. It’s a story involving whitewater rafting and a ring of boulders.
While I worked through months and then years of recovery, I could no longer run at the same pace I once had. I found myself in possession of a bewildering present and shards of a past I partially recognized as mine. My circumstances taught me to be more intentional with my time. How could I get more from life while doing less? Because my recovery depended on a practice of gratitude and an appreciation for everyday beauty, these became my devotion.
Learning to slow down and pay attention brought me back the gift of writing. Once a journalist, editor, and creative writer, after facing the experience of no longer being able to decipher a story, recovering my writing brought me back to me. And though I’m often writing before 5:00 a.m., I like to pack less into my days so I can appreciate them more. In this blog, I plan to share everyday musings and notes on the writing life.
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