Monday, June 24, 2013

The Spaciousness of Summer

There is more to life than increasing its speed.

To celebrate the start of summer, my husband, daughter and I went hiking on the Olympic Peninsula. We woke up Saturday morning to the sound of birds chirping and the sun streaming through our windows. For most parts of the country this probably sounds like a normal start to a summer day. But in the Northwest, June is frequently cool and overcast. In fact, summer weather often doesn't make an appearance until after the Fourth of July. But this June has been different. We've had sunny, warm days and there's been a feeling of crazed energy as we've burst forth from our houses a full month early. We decided to take advantage of the sun (plus the forecast for the coming week is back to our more typical "June-u-ary" weather). So we headed out to the Olympic Peninsula, unsure of our final destination.

Dungeness Lighthouse at tip of spit
We ended up at one of our favorite spots-Dungeness Spit. This is the longest natural sand spit in the United States. It juts into the Strait of Juan de Fuca for five miles ending at a lovely little lighthouse at its furthest tip. From one direction you can see Vancouver Island across the water and from another Mount Olympus hovers in the distance. Typically when we go there we walk for miles along the beach. But this time we also walked along the dunes up above.

As we hiked along the path, I found myself yearning for those days I remember as a kid when summer seemed so endless and "agenda-less." Back then, plans were what happened in the moment, they weren't written down weeks in advance, squeezed in between other commitments. How did it get to be so complicated? 
Hiking up above the spit
As we walked along I made myself push aside thoughts of tomorrow, next week and next month. I really concentrated on being present to where I was right then. I tried to conjure up that girl from summers past and just "be." I watched a pair of dragonflies mate in an acrobatic dance swooping left and right above me. I saw a hawk glide silently above the cedars. I listened to my daughter and husband banter back and forth. I felt the warmth of the sun on my arms, grateful to be in only a t-shirt and not in typical Northwest layers. I tried not to leave myself, as we tend to over and over in the course of the day. 

I've written before of my desire to be more mindful of the present. For me, it's one of those things I have to keep reminding myself to do. I know that when I am present, I am more grateful for everything. Life, like long summer days, seems more spacious and open-ended. But it's hard work being present and in the moment. It doesn't come as naturally to me as it once did, but I'm working on it.

I'm working at watching the clouds as they change shapes across the sky. I'm working at feeling the wind on my face, the sun at my back. I'm remembering to listen to the crickets' song at dusk. By connecting with nature I am reminded that I am connected to something much larger than myself-something that transcends me and will survive me. It's a comforting thought.
Looking towards Vancouver Island
So as we change seasons and move into summer, I am again reminded of its abundance and spaciousness. I am appreciative for its long, warm days, and grateful to be outside more. I try and respond with my whole heart to the beauty of the world. All of these things help remind me to be present now and give thanks. Here's a lovely Mary Oliver poem to conclude this post:

The Morning Walk

There are a lot of words meaning thanks.
Some you can only whisper.
Others you can only sing.
The pewee whistles instead.
The snake turns in circles,
the beaver slaps his tail
on the surface of the pond.
The deer in the pinewoods stamps his hoof.
Goldfinches shine as they float through the air.
A person, sometimes, will hum a little Mahler.
Or put arms around old oak tree.
Or take out lovely pencil and notebook to find a few
touching, kissing words.

Mary Oliver in Long Life


  1. What wonderful moments...Your insights are delicious! I am savoring summer and our connectedness to all.

    Love, M

  2. Robin,

    I read your post on staying present and I felt grief for what I experienced the other day. There were 3 baby birds (Robins as a matter of fact ☺) that had been feeding and growing in a nest near my window over the past weeks.

    Multiple times each day I had noticed the flight patterns of the mom and dad birds as they took turns bringing food to the nest, each one waiting at the same spot on the nearby chair for the “air traffic controller” to signal it was their turn on the nest, and in it would fly with it’s mouthful to share. Somehow on this past Monday I sensed the urgency to stay present with these birds -- or at least that they remain on the periphery of my thoughts and awareness. At one point I noticed the interval of time between feedings (about 11 minutes) and it was easy to stay present then.

    But then there was a lull and the interval became longer as flights stopped coming as regularly. I noticed that too and stayed focused. At some point in that lull I drifted in my mind to somewhere else while I stayed rooted in the same chair. Next thing I knew I was looking at a completely EMPTY nest feeling horror and despair. I had MISSED something really important!!! Then I sat down to think about what could have happened and I remembered that on the periphery of my thoughts I HAD noticed a lot of bird sound and that my eyes had registered the movement of multiple birds. But somehow I was unable to pull myself out of where I had drifted to in my mind in time to put the sensory input together and digest what was happening in that moment. My awareness had been there the whole time, but my thoughts pulled stronger. I was devastated. At the same time I was grateful for the opportunity to notice how easy it is to miss what’s most important even when it’s “right in front of me”.

    Thank you for your beautiful posts!