"It's as if a great bird lives inside the stone of our days and since no sculptor can free it, it has to wait for the elements to wear us down, till it is free to fly." Mark Nepo

Sunday, March 23, 2014

What I'm Looking For

The splash of bright purple arrayed like a fairy rug in front of the weathered stump brought me to a complete halt. Toby lolloped ahead, joy radiating and trailing behind. The river rushed by just out of sight. Sun-warmed air, along with the pace of the walk until then, made my blood rush and pinked my face.

Wild violets, the first flower of spring here, surprised me. Even though I've been looking for them since early February, I'd never seen them in this place before. I found them in their usual patch in the park, first white and then the signature violet color. They were in full purple glory in the lawn I've come to expect to see them. So thick there that their clean sweet metallic scent fills the air.

There is something so compelling, and hopeful, about the fact that such a delicate elfin flower is one of the first to declare the end of winter.

Seeing violets in a new place felt like a special gift. Although this time of year every new splash of color, every bird sighting,  and every gentle breath of wind feels like a special gift. While the gifts of winter are hard-earned and stark in their beauty, spring's are lush and abundant and generous.

The route of Toby's walk goes from the campground where I saw the violets to a particular beach on the river. Without really thinking about it, at certain places on the trail that runs parallel to the water, I stop and search. This is where I often find eagles on the snags on the other side.

Lately a pair of common mergansers has paddled along the shore most days I'm there. The only thing common about them is their name. Like Lucy and Ricky, she a wild redhead, he looking slickly polished with a dark green head, they move with the current. Even Toby in the water rarely concerns them into flight or a more hurried paddle.

On this particular day they were nowhere to be found. Neither were the eagles, which I know are nesting now somewhere in another part of their territory. Instead my searching eyes found high-flying swallows, the first of the season.

In a clearing on the same walk, I stood rapt, witness to the wild courtship display of an Anna's hummingbird. He caught my eye as he flew straight up, so high I almost lost sight. And then, like a car on a roller coaster, he swooped down in a perfect half-circle arc, ending in a curlicue directly above the female whose attention he sought. He repeated the maneuver a dozen times or more until they both flew off in the same direction.

At some point in the walk, the words, "you find what you're looking for," bounced around in my head. I could even hear Amy Grant's voice, although song lyrics are rarely a part of my thought processes. I realized that I do find exactly what I'm looking for, and that there is great power in knowing that.

My daily walks are one constant search for surprises and for the comfort of the reliable. I don't see eagles every day. I don't spot magic carpets of violets every day. I don't even see anything exciting every day. But what I do find is confirmation that the world is full of beauty and miracles and gifts both large and small. Every single walk provides some bit of light to eyes searching for evidence of it.

I considered that what is true for my time in nature might also be true for the rest of my life. The defenses of childhood are no longer necessary. Looking for danger, which was real and ever-present, helped keep me safe. I could hide. Or I could armor myself. Vigilance was essential for survival. Looking for gifts was risky business, especially in relationships, and I found I couldn't do both at the same time.

As is so often the case, the danger is long past, but the defenses are slow to come down. For one thing, they become so automatic, it's easy to not see them at all. For another, habit is habit, and cannot be broken without conscious effort.

 So what if I consciously and intentionally look for the miracles in relationships that I see so easily in nature? If I look for confirmation of my worth. If I look for the best in people.  If I look beyond fear and anger and acting out. If I look for adventure in routine, freedom in structure, laughter to soften hard edges. If I look for love in every situation. I will find what I'm looking for.

Sunday, March 16, 2014


The Oxford dictionary defines labyrinth as, "a complicated irregular network of passages or paths in which it is difficult to find one's way." In the labyrinths constructed for meditation, there is always one way out if the walker will only stay to the path in front of her. My life this winter has felt more maze-like than labyrinthine—all complicated paths running into dead-ends with the way out cleverly hidden and always just out of reach. 

Yesterday we found ourselves, Walt and I, on a hike named The Labyrinth. The name didn't register until we were there because the hike starts with an ascent up a steep ridge called Coyote Wall. In reading about the place, I hadn't noticed what the loop veering off from the wall was called. Sometime mid-hike, however, I began to realize what a gift we'd been given in this place named for its winding, wandering path.

Directions for this hike were simple even though there were paths going in every possible direction: go up and to the left until you come to the fence and then go right and stay on the main path. Not quite in summer hiking shape, we took the ascent very slowly. There was lots of resting, which meant lots of time to look around. The Labyrinth loop involved some seriously steep descending, which meant we had to go slowly, which meant lots of time to look around.

Under a sunny sky, accompanied by capricious breezes, we saw the season's first wildflowers. Delicate desert parsley in lemony bloom grew through the rocks at the beginning of the path. Some sections of open meadow were purple with grass widow, and others were polka-dotted with grass widow and yellow bells. One rare magenta desert parsley plant blushed from under gray underbrush not yet revived from its winter death. Gold stars glowed demurely from the trail's edge. 

Western meadowlarks burbled and called from the tops of solitary wind-shaped pines. It's a sound from early childhood that, like the call of killdeers and the chortle of barn swallows, lifts me to the sky.

Ravens soared in tandem overhead, their whiskey-voiced croaks floating to us on random wind gusts. We watched one, all glossy big-beaked glory, eating something on a rock. Once finished, he flew to the top of a rocky bluff. As he watched us wind our way toward home, I felt his intense gaze as benediction.

Outcroppings of columnar basalt, so symmetrical it seems impossible they aren't carved by man's hand, surprised us from time to time around bends in the trail . The product of ancient volcanic eruptions, the columns stand against wind and temperature and time. Like beings in shoulder to shoulder formation, made powerful in their unity, they offer proof of eternity. 

Water in rivulets and seepings and one laughing tumbling plunging creek kept us company the whole day. It cooled the air, sang for our picnic, supported the beating of our hearts. The milky green of the stream turned the rocks of its bed into one long string of strange pearls adorning the hillside. 

Once in the Labyrinth there was never any doubt which trail we were to follow despite the number of times it turned back on itself. Fainter trails took off in random directions. Some were declared closed, and others were mysterious and tempting in a road-less-traveled way. We even talked about the possibility of bushwacking our way across country, but our energy and the time kept us on our intended path. 

Four hours later, footsore and sweaty, blood singing, heart overflowing, we made our way back to the car. Our way found. 

The metaphor is cliche. But the message was one I needed the way a lost child needs a mother's reassuring hug: A chosen destination, followed step by step will get a person where they need to be. It doesn't really matter what the choice is. What matters is the one foot in front of the other movement forward on a committed and intentional path. Even in a seemingly desolate place still officially in winter, beauty exists in bounty beyond comprehension. Rushing to the end means the possibility of injury (those trails were steep and rocky!), and the probability of missing most of the miracles along the way. 

This particular winter ended for me yesterday in The Labyrinth. Hope outshines despair again. A spark has been re-ignited. I move forward with a lighter step and my eyes focused more on my immediate surroundings. I left some part of me behind in the dark coldness of this last season. Something frozen and fallen away. While I'm not quite sure yet who is left, I look forward to getting to know her as we set out on new trails.