Calliope Mikulecky uses spring break to dig razor clams on Puget Sound–far from the fluorescent hallways and endless tasks of school. Photo by Shannon McGinnis.
A week in spring free from the job means, for me, catching up with garden tasks before the explosive growth of May and June overwhelms me. I work among prosperous people, some of them, so I hear of their travel plans. I admit that time on a tropical beach sounds alluring. But I also know that what we yearn to encounter by traveling everywhere, by indulging in restless thousand-mile weekends, may be more elusive than a plane ticket to Maui–and more accessible than a million distractions streaming to a million devices.
One of the more liberating things I’ve learned from travel came clear to me one morning at the twin lakes atop Mollman Pass in the Mission Mountains. It was only a few miles from home, and we’d hiked up to the pass in the Mission Range the day before–the ridge from which we could see the Swan Range to the east, and pitched our tents. When dawn arrived I got up, somewhat ecstatic with the sense of ease and freedom one easily finds in the back country. It’s a form of being rich–having time to lavish on life’s gorgeous details.
Here were no tasks or unfinished projects–no repairs to be made or messes to organize or messages to answer. A red-tailed hawk circled the sky between peaks and feeding trout dimpled the lake. The fast-changing light cascaded over glaciers and canyons . Fresh tracks of goats, rabbits, and a grizzly in the mud around a small spring hinted at how little I could see of where I was and what was happening. I spent an hour before breakfast standing on a cliff, climbing to little perches for a better view, sitting beside the rippling water, watching, savoring the breezes on my skin amid the soft rustle of Creation.
It occurred to me that most of what I was observing could be experienced in my own yard along Mission Creek down in the valley. What I was enjoying most about my little excursion was not the earth and sky, which were never far away, but my attention, which is to say my consciousness, devoted to sensing the moment.
I know by long experience now that what I’m seeking has more to do with waking up a little more than with any exotic quality of the location where I find myself. Yesterday morning I spent removing peony cages from crinkly brown remnants of last summer’s peonies, removing starts of quack grass and bindweed with a single-tined finger hoe, then replacing the cages. As I worked, I paused to watch juncos, house finches, goldfinches, robins and chickadees, drawn by the millet I’d spread on the ground.
Gardening when one isn’t anxious about hunger can be mainly a contemplative act, involving, as Virgil knew, keen attention to heaven’s indulgence:
Nor would the stress
Of life be bearable for tender things
Did not so long a respite come between
The cold and heat, and heaven’s indulgence grant
This comfort to the world.
Giving all one’s attention to a place on earth one knows well–paying attention with ears, nose, skin, and soul–is a fine way to spend an April morning. Life courses in fresh torrents around and through us, and inexhaustible energy flows in our veins as we turn to all the rows of our lives, at home.