On a stretch of highway near Great Barrington, MA, I was called to stop at a dirt road framed by trees (pictured above). On one side a cemetery hid in the shade and on the other a green, grassy lawn stretched into the sunlight. The road felt majestic like the trees were tall knights guarding a secret passage. And the road’s existence itself felt hidden, especially to me as someone who wasn’t from the area but rather enjoying an extended stay one hot July.
Very few people traveled the road. It was quiet. Surrounded by these tall, beautiful trees I felt an invitation to be still, to listen.
When I look at images from my time on this small stretch of road, I’m reminded of one of my favorite poems by David Wagoner, Lost, from Collected Poems 1956-1976, Indiana University Press.
Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you
Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known.
Reading the poem alone brings a sense of stillness and calm but above that it captures the knowingness of the trees and what exists in the space of the present moment.
Read the entire poem on the Writer’s Almanac site.
My old cat Puddy taught me how to nap and take breaks throughout the day.
Napping was not on a recent list of habits of highly productive writers featured in The Chronicle of Higher Education but I think it should be. Napping is a practice in letting go of any judgment about doing nothing. When you sit down at your desk and stare at a blank screen you are sitting down at your desk and staring at a blank screen—not doing much. But that’s okay. In that space, the mind rests and reboots, if you allow it. Just like you need breaks between paragraphs, spaces between words—you need naps even if you just close your eyes and rest your head in the palm of your hand for a few moments of breathing.
Looking closely at the list, however, I can see that napping could fall under, “They know that a lot of important stuff happens when they’re not ‘working.’” But in this case the author Rachel Toor refers to doing task-like errands not napping.
Find space between all of that productivity to rest the mind and body and breathe.
To see the full list, visit: http://chronicle.com/article/The-Habits-of-Highly/150053/
This winter hasn’t left much desire for urban hikes between the freezing temperatures and icy winds, however, on a few evening strolls I marveled at the stillness that had settled over my little neighborhood. I thought I was stuck in the polar vortex, my mind filled with thoughts about how much I loathe the cold, the layers, and most of all, the lack of sun. Despite the internal grumbling, I couldn’t help but notice the trees. Majestic with their snow-laden branches, they had taken on a new form. Their shared winter nakedness had given way to a shimmering, crystal patchwork. A tree that had nearly been stripped of all of its beautiful branches during Hurricane Sandy, really came to life adorned by a frosty, tendril-like headdress.
When I stopped to admire the beauty surrounding me, my grumbling thoughts stopped. That’s when I noticed the stillness. It was as if all of the nighttime noise had been swept up into the depths of the branches. It was as if the trees had offered to bear the weight of all of our misery and misfortune.
As we travel through the edge of this season, I’ll leave behind the grumbling winter-worn thoughts, but I’ll miss the serenity, the quiet, and the stillness of the snow-filled streets.