I must go in, the fog is rising.
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.
(Everything bold and italicized is from Pema Chödrön : When Things Fall Apart)