With strokes of luck and intuition, RK and I ended up in the perfect place. We can observe the Milky Way in the night sky with owls and coyotes as the soundtrack. The forest is just down the street, where we know the trails so well we have even named some of the rocks. The neighbors aren’t always perfect, there are faraway gunshots heard from the buttes, but this is the wabi-sabi in our lives — something to notice and grumble about, that also connects us to the neighborhood.
Visiting my mom in Kansas City recently, the best part of each day was drinking coffee at the large dining table and watching the pond below through large windows. Nothing happened at the pond, and the view was crisscrossed with power lines, but it reflected the blue sky and the sunrise beyond it. Geese flew over the trees, bare of leaves but filled with birds of many colors. Feral cats begged for food at the door while running in fright if we moved towards them.
Inside, we were all glued to various screens. Talk involved politics and pandemics. The greenways of the city were littered with trash, the streets tight with potholes and large cars, the sidewalks unused. In the park nearby, trails circle back on themselves to create distance for mountain bikers. With leaves on the trees, the illusion works. In winter, I observed the sound of the highway.
While I view myself as a fairly calm and laid back person, and I know at least a few people that would describe me that way, anxiety can creep in. Most of my life choices are intended to create distance from the things that tighten my jaw and narrow my vision. So, I live in a house by the forest surrounded by ponderosa pines and bitterbrush with a vast view of volcanic buttes. I ensure my schedule accommodates solitude and time outside. The city, it draws me tight and I become edgy, sharp, and intolerant.
There have been many books lately about the importance of time in nature to heal our mental angst. We are fragile, clever creatures, building structures, devices, and environments to separate ourselves from everything outside and from our roots in the natural world. Drugs are developed to stabilize our moods, money paid for classes and apps to make us calm. We take vacations for wellness and self-care. But what if we need most of all to step outside, hug a tree, gaze at a blue pond in the distance? To step away from the self?
Most mornings, I pull on whatever armor I need to face the elements — windproof jacket, headlamp, fleecy hat — so that I can run to the ridge with Mack the dog and watch the sunrise. Sometimes the sky fades from inky black to aqua to bright almost colorless white, before settling into pale morning blue. Other times, the clouds become outlined with color, with wisps of pink or magenta, then blushing with a panorama of hues. The horizon is interrupted by far-off mountains, ponderosa pines, and perhaps a few houses, and leaves me breathless. Both empty and full. I run faster and lighter on the trail home.