How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.
- Annie Dillard
We set out up the dry canyon, eyeing the mountain. A clear morning, already hot. We had the dog and our backpacks and plenty of water. I carried the lunch.
We’d chosen a wide trail, but still had our masks in our pockets. Beyond the parking lot, though, we came upon no one else. It was us, the rocky path, and the sun. For an hour we walked uphill, and in some moments the day’s headlines almost fell away.
A country on the brink. Five major crises at once — health, race, climate, democracy, economy. Not an era for the fainthearted, to be sure. How to keep the body at least partly in tune, keep the ravages of anxiety at bay?
Today, we went to the mountain.
In that open space, we eventually reawakened to some simple elements. Our footsteps. The air. The hard sunlight and rock and, off to our right, a channel of the glacial river. That melt, curving through layers of volcanic flow.
Last fall, right after my son’s final soccer game of the season, as I watched the boys in the midst of a team photo and smiling big, I wanted to freeze the moment. Such camaraderie and cohesiveness, hard-earned after twelve games. Part of me wanted to go over and say something to the kids, something about appreciating this time, these friends, and of course their great parents. But such a gaggle of thirteen-year-olds would’ve only laughed and perhaps looked stricken at once, and the moment passed.
How many moments, when we feel such an impulse — to say or do something, corny or small as it may be, something that takes things just a little bit deeper amid the onrush of time — do we let it pass? In my grief and anger and worry during these times, how often do I succumb to the habit of letting too many such moments slip back into the flow?
On the trail we found a picnic spot on a ridge and looked out at the mountain. Some thin clouds feathered off the summit, and the high crevasses seemed liked cracks. We ate our rolls, cheese, and berries, and absorbed the view. Slowly refueling.
Back in the city with its ravaged downtown, we would soon reenter the current of our lives there, and the headlines would go on cutting deep.
How to stay informed and not batter one’s health? How to fight for justice in genuinely helpful ways while staying mindful of compassion? How to walk through the world with faith and good effort and poise, to say nothing of a sense of humor now and then?
On the way down, we swerved off the trail and sat beside the narrow cold channel, and the dog, tongue bobbing, plopped himself right down in the water. Wildflowers flanked the stream and we took off our boots. We sat there for a good while with our feet submerged and breathed the silvery air.
This was the world also. And though this canyon would change someday soon, the shape of it — through times of calm and times of volatile surge — there would still be these moments of shattering beauty when all you could do was sit still for a minute, breathing, with starlight on your back, and take it all in.