Love in the Mist

I must go in, the fog is rising.
-Emily Dickinson

My experiment of the day was a bust. Well, kind of. Not having a terribly specific weather report, I journeyed almost three hours in anticipation of a sunrise with views of Mt Hood. I arrived instead to an icy, misty blanket of fog that would stubbornly persist all day. I’ve been here just once since the grand reopening of the Steigerwald NWR. My plan was a “John Muir” day: Sunrise to sunset outside. Instead, I bundled up and went in. Surely the fog would lift …

While overcast skies sometimes make for a great photograhic experience (fog can be delightful too), it’s much less desirable for birding.. Early on my walk I came upon two Northern harriers perched on snags and poised to exploit the limited visibility. Hiding in plain sight were a female and an aptly named “grey ghost” male. Although just twenty yards away they became lost in the thickening air. 

It had drama, I’ll give it that. Soft backgrounds give the illusion of shadow. And a monochrome shot can be stunning. Later in the afternoon the visibility improved but the sky remained a linen veil throughout the day. Heron are beautiful in this diffused light and the brightly colored scrub jays and meadowlarks popped against a muted colorless sky. 

I have been listening to Pema Chödrön’s When Things Fall Apart all month on my drives. The message of what meditation is, and what it is not, is slowly sinking in. I have been growing a practice for years now only to discover that maybe I’ve been seeing it all with a blurry lens. 

We think that the point is to pass the test or overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.

I wanted to believe that I would find some lasting contentment through meditation. But nothing lasts. Everything changes, the good, the bad and the ugly. The goal isn’t to be free of the feelings. The goal I suppose is be willing to be with them in compassion. 

Meditation practice isn’t about trying to throw ourselves away and become something better. It’s about befriending who we are already.

I walked for miles. I took in the sounds and the cold. I remembered to look around. I paid attention to my breathing. I turned off my phone. I watched the California scrub jay hopping around on the gravel. I flushed (by accident) the Western meadowlarks from the brush only to watch the flock fly up into a tree just ahead. I watched a fierce female harrier hunt and then capture and consume her prey. I watched the attentive and stoic heron perched on a gnarly snag in the reflecting pond. 

It was cold. I kept my camera swinging from my neck while I buried my hands in my jean pockets. I walked along the river trail watching swirls of undertow and the rippled trails of pintails, teals and cormorants in the Columbia. I even took in the sounds of muffled traffic and diesel trucks. I was truly there in the refuge.

My lovely poet friend joined me in the afternoon and we walked and talked until the cold reached in and rattled our bones. We headed to Vancouver for a fabulous meal of tacos and chips and homemade ginger ale. We talked about writing and relationships and fragile memories. We talked about dreams and discovered we have both seen the black panther in that netherworld of our sub-conscious. A black panther, go figure. It was perfect in every way. 

Between talking with friends and my deep listening to Pema, I am beginning to feel held in fleeting moments. I feel less restless and more willing to lean in. I’m feeling more present in my own life. Less grasping, more releasing. I am forever a beginner and it’s a lovely place to find myself. 

Each moment is an opportunity to make a fresh start.The essence of bravery is being without self-deception.

Everybody loves something, even if it’s only tortillas.

A very good day

(Everything bold and italicized is from Pema Chödrön : When Things Fall Apart)

16 Comments on “Love in the Mist

  1. You could not have asked for a better filter than what Mother Nature provided, they are stunning.

    • Thanks Jocelyn. There are gifts all around, aren’t there? I think the key is really a deep appreciation and awareness. I find that whatever draws our eye to it is beautiful in surprising ways. You are a master at that!

  2. You still managed to get some really nice shots, Bonnie Rae. When Things Fall Apart has been on my must-read list for a long while. You’ve encouraged me to move it to the top! So far, the meditation practice I started a few months ago has resulted in my slowing down & feeling less panicky in stressful driving situations. Are you familiar with Natalie Goldberg? There are elements of your writing that remind me of hers. She has been a favorite of mine as long as I can remember.

    • So glad to see you here, Lisa. It was a lovely day. I’m glad that book is on your radar. I found it incredibly helpful to understand the value of technique. I’ve stopped looking for meditation to make me a better person or alter my unwelcome circumstance and I look forward only to stopping long enough to appreciate where it is I actually am. I love Natalie Goldberg and while I haven’t been an avid follower, I certainly know a high compliment when I hear one. Thank you 🙏

  3. Yes I’ve hit that fog along that stretch of the Columbia in the winter, a reminder to be prepared. Everyone seems to agree with Pema’s words, which echo Kornfield’s After the Ecstacy, the Laundry, which perhaps comes from the Zen saying “Before enlightenment; chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment; chop wood, carry water.” Or something like that. All those smart people agree. And yet we keep looking for balance, for the perfect answer, for the right mixture of ingredients. Get up and do it again.
    Still I agree with the others, the fog was the perfect milieu for these gorgeous shots, the reds and blues stand out, the dewdrops on the web, and some well deserved tacos. Good for you for getting out into it all in the cold.

    • Yes, that fog. Persistent to a fault. It’s interesting to me that I can slip into an almost altered state when I’m outside. I only notice the cold or the heaviness of my legs when the spell of the wildness is broken. Usually that happens on my way back to the car. It all seems very Zen to me. Anytime I can bring compassion and love and attention together I know I’m not angry or sad or future-tripping. Pema, Jack, Trudy, Maezen … I’m listening. Thanks for sharing.

  4. You have such a way with words, my friend. And with a camera, and these (ahem) 25 photos. (Maybe the tacos needn’t count.) Brava, and thank you.

    • Forever grateful for words and photos as math is clearly not my strong suit. Thanks for the kindness here. The tacos have to count, they were sooo good!

  5. That passage from Pema Chödrön is one of my favorites that I’ve returned to over and over. It seems so obvious, but sometimes the “knowing” doesn’t quite solidify, until we read it elsewhere. It’s like we can’t trust ourselves but we can trust others’ wisdom.

    I love the foggy misty days. They force me to reconsider how I see things and how I move through the world. There’s a lot of trust when moving through fog. We have to truly trust ourselves, rely on instinct, and settle into the quiet peace.

    Your photographs, as always, are stunning. Thank you for sharing your heart with us. ❤️

    • Oh, yes, to all of this. That book has been a huge reinforcement to the things I am learning from my favorite Zen priest. It’s helpful to me in letting go of my misconceptions about the very purpose of mediation in my life. And navigating fog is very much like navigating life. It happened to be the perfect metaphor and I really loved my day. Thanks for the kindness and appreciation of my photo share. There is beauty everywhere and I’m lucky to be in the frame of mind where I can not just appreciate, but recognize it on my path. Thanks for writing*

  6. I read, listened, and re-read When Things Fall Apart last year… it was/is a spot-on parable. And it helped me soooo much.
    These images and the narrative are much more than ‘stunning’ — and despite the ‘chink’ in the plan, it looks to have been nothing short of GLORIOUS. Brava!

    • I should probably circle back and say it wasn’t so much expectation as it was hope about that sunrise. My friend I met with said when she left her house 40 minutes east it was sunny! Weird pocket. Pema’s book is like a spiritual text and I hope like crazy some of what I’m hearing is actually sinking in.

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