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Living and Writing in the Natural World

The mood of the universe these days

Today we got in the mail an envelope postmarked simply “Buckingham Palace” with an enclosed card from the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, aka Will and Kate. On my walk through Bidwell Park the grey, leafless oaks were accented by scores of bright cream and pink flowers of intervening Prunus wild cherry saplings. And on my way to the grocery I listened to Jon Miller and David Fleming on the radio calling the plays of the San Francisco Giants first game of spring training. What do all these things have in common?

In their own ways, the above elements of my day today are all occasions for celebration, an activity very high on the list of attributes of anyone attuned to the natural world. Spring has come every year for 4 billion years on our planet, and it’s not only OK but obligatory to celebrate the longer daylight hours, the warmer temperatures, and the universal splash of bright flowers that mark the season. I understand that winter is necessary, and I’m OK with winter, though I find it too long for my tastes, even here in Northern California. Never the less, I’m always glad when the blossoms of Prunus in the park and the daffodils thickly blooming in our neighbor Del’s flowerbed show up and announce “Enough!”

All the natural world celebrates spring, and who am I to disagree with that? I guess I could mope around and mutter “Yeah, but winter’s only another 9 months away, you’ll see.” But what’s the point? Celebrate! Take off a layer or two of clothes, stretch your daily walk a bit longer. Breathe deep that soft spring air and stoop down to smell the flowers.

This inclination to celebrate is not just about spring, though it’s most obvious now. It’s an inclination that’s deeply steeped in the natural life. It’s the inclination that led Tammy and I two years ago to take off on her spring break from teaching, to fly to London and help Kate and Will get married. I mean, how often does a handsome prince and future king marry a beautiful commoner? London was awash with parties, with flags and bemedaled soldiers on horseback, with well-wishers from all the British Empire and then some—we must have heard two dozen languages in our week there.

We rose in the darkness before dawn of the wedding day and by first light were on the second row of spectators at the fences of St. James Park (only those in sleeping bags overnight were in front of us). We cheered ourselves nearly hoarse as Queen Elizabeth then Prince Charles then Will and Harry rode before us to Westminster Abbey. We listened to the wedding on loudspeakers, joining in on the hymns in our parkside programs. And then we got all the way to hoarse as all rode carriages before us back to Buckingham Palace, this time Will and Kate seated together as man and wife. (See photos in Ambles and Images.)

So of course, we wrote Will and Kate a congratulatory note when her pregnancy became known. And today they replied with a gracious “thank you.” That it was a form note and photo was understandable and accepted.

Then there’s spring training. Baseball has been part of my life for over half a century now, either as a little-league player (a mean shortstop, though often my throws to first bounced en route) or a radio fan of our local Giants team. That they’ve won the World Series two of the last three years helps, but is not essential. Listening to baseball on the radio has been a key part of my summers since the 1950’s (the Cardinals, with Joe Garagiola) to today. I love it.

This urge to celebrate arising from the natural world was recognized thousands of years ago by those Chinese who paid attention—the Taoists. Thus we find a Taoist-mode Confucius in the Chuang Tze recommending that we “Live so that you are at ease, in harmony with the natural world, and full of joy. Day and night, share the springtime with all things.” Traveling in China in the 1920s, John Blofeld found the Taoist wanderers in the mountains still following this advice, 2,500 years later. He described “their ready smiles and laughter, their joy in things so simple that other people, unaware of the holiness of every leaf or puff of air, would have allowed them to pass unnoticed.”

Celebration is thus a general stance to life, grounded in the natural world but extending to all parts of our human experience. Have you just passed through a harrowing tragedy? Celebrate that you survived it, and that it strengthened the love between you and your dear ones. Contemplating a challenge looming before you? Celebrate the rich life you’ve had so far, and the support and love you’ll have from your friends and family as you bravely face it. When we lost our daughter Holly, we mourned her death but we also, and robustly, celebrated her life.

Don’t feel like you have anything to celebrate? Make something up. A trip to the ocean or desert wildflowers or a mountaintop or Hawaii or a visit to your kids or grandkids (it helps to bring presents). Whatever makes you smile, whatever you would look forward to. Purchase tickets to a baseball game this summer. Book a hike with the Sierra Club, or a ballroom dancing class. Celebrate! The universe wants you to.
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