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Living and Writing in the Natural World

Taking Time

I’m with the Taoist tradition of China and the environmental stance in America, that it’s important to spend time in the natural world. A week in the High Country, or an hour walking “the route” beside Chico Creek with my wife in the evenings. In addition to these longer times, it’s also good to give yourself a break from the rat race and take briefer moments throughout the day to remind yourself of what’s important. It needn’t be long. Yesterday, it was 2 minutes and twenty seconds for me.

I was between chapters, so I grabbed a persimmon (the crunchy variety), located the next-to-the-last movement of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons on my CD player, and took a seat in the front room and ate while the violin played above the thrumming string rhythm. My eyes lazily roamed over the room. The Chinese rug from Tianjin on which all four of my kids have somersaulted, horsed around, and played Monopoly, Risk, and Stratego. The big melon conch shell on the top of the bookshelf, and the tiger cowry from Hawaii several shelves below. I munched away on the persimmon as the violin soared above the rhythm background, liking the sweet, sad, beautiful sound, which reminds me of much of life.

My eyes swept past my line of tea cannisters, pausing at the one from the Empress Hotel in Victoria, where the family had partaken of “high tea,” whose cost explained to frugal dad why it was rightfully called “high.” Then to the family altar, placed so we walk by it and notice it a dozen times a day at the juncture of hallway, kitchen, and front room. The fractured Cloth-of-Gold cone shell that my son plucked from a tidepool on Oahu’s windward shore. Owl and flicker feathers from various walks. The photograph of the family, just behind the scallop shell in which I light a tea candle a time or two a day. On the left of the altar, a photograph of daughter number two, Holly, squatting on a rock above Butte Creek, grinning as she eats a snack.

The Vivaldi movement was over, the persimmon was eaten, core and all, and I felt great, refreshed and reminded of so many things dear and good to me. You can take these moments out in the natural world itself, of course. We’ve all seen the Chinese landscape paintings, where a fellow is sitting in a pavilion, quietly enjoying the view of mountains, lake, and clouds. On my “long” rides in the less-frequented Upper Bidwell Park, I’ll lock my bike to a trash can, hike along the creek on the Yahi Trail, then drop down and hop a couple of rocks to a slab sitting surrounded by the creek itself. I pull a thermos of hot tea from my daypack, plus a snack, and sit drinking tea and eating peanut-butter on saltine crackers, enjoying the sound of the creek as it rushes past the basalt rocks.

Water works for me for some reason. On the days and at the hours when Holly was taking radiation treatments for her cancer, thirteen years ago, I’d drop what I was doing at my desk and walk a couple of minutes to Chico Creek that flows through campus. I’d barge through the camellia shrubs to the water’s edge and stand, in rain or sunshine, watching the water flow by, and sending warm, positive thoughts to Holly. I didn’t pretend that I was helping heal her or anything. But just standing there as the water rushed by, being with her in my thoughts, helped me, somehow. We lost her a couple of months later, and I went to the same creek with the family, upstream of the campus, and we wrote poems to her on strips of sycamore bark, and placed them in the flowing water, sending our love for Holly to the universe by way of Chico Creek, the Sacramento River, San Francisco Bay, and the Pacific Ocean.

Every time I cross or bicycle by the creek now, it reminds me of what’s important. That life is a gift, to be savored. To be celebrated. Too precious, much too precious to be overlooked or lost in the hustle and bustle of earning a living or running errands. Celebrating and honoring life is our “real” job, much more important than whatever we do to pay the rent. So we enjoy the creek. We light tea candles at the family altar. We play monopoly or scrabble on the Chinese rug. You can do what works for you. It needn't entail a lot of time. But take time.
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