There is always something else that needs doing. But there are never enough days like yesterday, days when the trees don brilliant robes and stand tall, rustling softly in their finery. When the sky melts into azure infinity, when the air is as soft as breath, and nasturtiums bloom like crown jewels scattered upon a tumbled carpet of fallen leaves. The thrum of insects, the call of a crow, the precious light, the honeyed warmth – it was too lovely an October afternoon to miss. A day that whispered, “Ignore the to-do list, shut off the computer, and play hooky.”
The dictionary defines it thus: “an unjustifiable absence.” It seemed to me that the golden afternoon was justification enough. Summer was offering an unexpected encore, free to all takers. My husband Steve and our friend Nance met me on the trail and, with the dogs bounding ahead, we climbed up to a quiet clearing with a view of mountains, a place we call “the meditation chairs.” Over many years, visitors to this spot have assembled hundreds of stones large and small into an arrangement of artful cairns and comfortable seats that invite revery and repose and reflection. It was a perfect place to sit for a while, savoring this glorious, unseasonally balmy Monday.
Nance and I looked at each other as we headed back down the trail and we both had the same thought at the same time: would it be crazy to go swimming? We went from the mountain straight to the pond, smooth as glass in the waning afternoon. There was nothing to do but peel off our clothes and plunge. The slap of cold was small price to pay for the exhilaration of slicing through that icy black water, straight out to the middle of the lake, and then turning to look back at hills soaked in color, the empty beach, the resplendent stillness. We swam to shore shivering, exultant, grateful.
When our boys were young, a full moon on a clear night was always a good excuse for sleeping outdoors, but it has been years now since I’ve done it. The truth is, I haven’t been quite ready to return, alone or even with my husband, to some of those cherished traditions that were so much a part of our family life. My greatest joy as a mother was to introduce my children to the world, to lead them gently into wonder, to provide an abundant harvest of experiences that would stir their senses and quicken their imaginations – walks in the woods, nights under the stars, stories told by firelight, hushed sunrises and barefoot walks through dew-soaked grass. Now that they are grown, I miss those times more than I can say. I miss my sons as the little boys they were, much as I love and admire the young men they have become. And I miss the joy of our shared play, the sense of adventure that infused our days and nights, the fun of dragging air mattresses and sleeping bags out into the backyard on a moment’s notice and cuddling up together beneath a vast canopy of stars. I miss seeing the world through a child’s eyes.
I’m also realizing that herein lies one of the great challenges of this new phase of my life as a woman whose child-raising days have ended: to learn all over again to see the world through my own eyes. I want to look and feel deeply now not just for my sons’ sake, but for myself. And to remember that this life, these days, are not just thrilling for young children, but for me, too. To live well on the earth means to inhabit gently its fields and streams and wild places, to praise its magnificent abundance and variety, to protect its treasures, to celebrate its beauty even as we honor our own playful spirits, no matter how old or how young we are.
Now that I have no little boys to take by the hand and lead out into the wonderful morning, it’s easy for me to get so caught up in the doings and details of my “grown-up” life that I miss the soft curve of a day, the gentle approach of evening, the first wink of stars at twilight. I forget to pause long enough to savor the miracles of creation that are right in front of me. But it’s time for me to pay closer attention to this world now for my own soul’s sake; indeed, to partake of its wonders myself just as I once offered them to my children. It is such a simple thing, really, to sit, to look, to see, to cherish. The harvest moon, certainly, is always worthy of celebration and homage, whether one is five or fifty.
And so, I pitched my small tent on the crest of our hill last night and unrolled my sleeping bag. I lit a fire under the stars, listened to the coyotes yipping in the field below, watched the beneficent moon inscribe her graceful arc through the night. When I awoke this morning, my hair damp with dew, the first streaks of crimson were just appearing on the horizon. I lay alone in my tiny tent, silent, serene, looking out across the mountains with a heart full of gratitude — for all that was, and also for all that is. This world. This life. This day.
Thank you, dear friends, for the week full of wonderful birthday wishes and, too, for sharing the precious gifts of your lives with me. I cherish your comments and am in awe of the power of words to bring us close, to weave such marvelous threads of connection through our hearts and minds.