On Being Fully Awake

I’ve worked hard during Covid to keep my spirits up, but have to admit that lately I’ve been experiencing a lot of sameness in my life. While pre-Covid, each day was different from the last—lunch with a friend one day, a hike with another the next, dinner out after that, or a bit of a shopping spree on Solano Avenue, a play one night, concert another, maybe even a lecture yet another evening—lately one day feels identical to the one just past. I’ve eliminated lunch with friends, shopping sprees, dinners out, concerts and plays—most activities that created variety and texture in my life.

Then last weekend, when Stephen and I were up in Navarro, I took my usual walk one afternoon, from our house to what we collectively refer to as The Point. I take this walk for exercise set high in a beautiful redwood forest , with frequent views to the valley below. But I know the route intimately, as I take the walk at least once each weekend we spend up there. I know it so well, in fact, I often joke that I could walk from my house to The Point with my eyes closed!

Several minutes after I set out, I noticed several Douglas firs that had turned a striking orangish-red sprawled on the downward slope of a neighbor’s hillside. The firs, cut down and in the two weeks since I had last passed this hillside, had turned from green to red.

The striking color of the firs set off the gold of the tan oaks and roadside ferns caught by a recent freeze. And when I looked down, the road surface in spots was covered with carpets of red-brown redwood needles.

My eyes opened wide and I felt myself shiver. Suddenly, the landscape no longer appeared familiar.

As I continued walking, my once-familiar route was transformed. Sunlight splashed onto tree trunks much lower down their trunks than the last time I had been awake to my surroundings here. And because the sun was so much lower in the sky, the shadows cast were longer and more impressive than during the summer, when the sun is higher. And all around me, everything appeared crisper in the clear, colder light.

This is not the walk I expected to take, I thought to myself, as I looked all about me. Everything looks and feels different, the air colder, the colors deeper, so much more orange than green. Then a joyous thought rocketed through me: Nothing is ever exactly the same from one day to the next. If we learn to pay attention, what we think is the same can be transformed.

The rest of the way to The Point, I found myself stopping here and then there to take in a particularly bright splash of sunlight, or a shadow stretching toward me from the side of the road, a constellation of reddish redwood needles caught in a wire fence, the fiery-red of a vine of poison oak snaking up a treetrunk.

It’s true: Nothing is ever exactly the same, even during Covid. If it appears that way, it is because my eyes aren’t open wide enough, or my attention not focused enough for me to perceive even the smallest shifts life in the here and now offers to us wherever we turn.

Worn Wood

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