I’ve always said I’m not into rituals. It’s not true. I’m out before traffic starts each morning. 6 blocks up, and more than 6 blocks down. It’s a far cry from the 3-1/2 miles I walked for years when I lived in Asheville, NC. And there’s no small group waiting to watch the sunrise with me like I had in St. Pete, FL. It’s OK. I’m letting go of comparisons.
I walk through a park on my route each morning. A grassy expanse two blocks long and more than a half block wide. It’s bordered by tall evergreens and cottonwoods. Some seemingly ancient, their bark thick & deep-grained. One’s missing part of her outer coat on one side, revealing her smooth, hard core. The shape of the outer bark at the opening is draped, gnarly, reminds me of hanging flesh. And is somehow beautiful. Trees that flower each spring are in the mix, too.
At one end of the park is a smallish bed tended by master-gardener volunteers. Irises bloom there now, and it looks like an impressionist painting in the soft morning light. I know later there’ll be bold hollyhocks. Their big, luscious trumpets of frilled edged flowers clustered up thick into straight towers.
‘The Rose Garden’ is at the other end. 4 long tiers of a wide concrete promenade down the middle of hundreds of bushes, a fountain at the bottom. Spots of color teased for weeks. Then almost overnight it was all awash in pinks, reds, corals, and yellows, big and small, begging to be adored. Older residents come in the early hours, snip them with shears for their own private bouquets. When the breeze is right, rose fragrance drifts to the top of the promenade. I’ve put my nose in so many, I know only a few offer this gift. I always stop at the blooms I can count on. One smells like orange sherbet.
The morning walk and this park are my ritual. . . to wake my senses and move my body. To step out of my head and shift the view. To observe with awareness the world around me. Vital for surviving the chaos that reigns across the globe right now. And for writing.
I realized how much it brings me back to center one morning at the top of my Up. The toes in my right foot began to throb so painfully I had to stop. That foot’s had three surgeries. My toes are an ugly mess as a result. Coming so sudden, I thought ‘I’m supposed to pause,” and waited for the Why. I heard the insistent chatter of a male bird working hard for attention of his intended. I watched his dance up and down and fluttering about. I remembered hearing other birds the day before as they chased their hoped for mates. When I stopped at the fountain in the rose garden, I heard each individual drop before the fall of water. The cascade sounding huge in the whisper of breeze thru leaves all around me. At home, I opened my computer to this by author Kim Barnes:
“I am sitting late outside in our yard, which is the forest. To the east, the sound of a night bird I can’t identify–it sounds like a rusty windmill. To the west, a distant neighbor is calling her cat: “Kitty? Kitty?” To the south, a coyote clan is throwing a wild party. A few yards to the north, a gravid doe is stamping and blowing. All around me, beetles and shrews are burrowing beneath the fallen dead needles of winter. The trees are talking, talking, talking. I want to stay out here all night and listen to this dark world.”
One day I walked up on a very little bird like a tiny sparrow sitting on the edge of the fountain’s rim, facing the water. Not wanting to disturb it and fearing my shadow might, I stood still for minutes. When it didn’t startle, I took a chance, sat down 3 ft. from its perch. It stayed. The two of us together. Then, slowly, it moved 2 ft further away from me. As I sat, I felt random drops sprinkling my skin, and realized the little bird faced the fountain for the spray like a soft shower. As I watched, it bent forward, scooped water into its beak from the wall of the pool. Again and again, scoop and drink. It was still there when I left ten minutes later.
Be still. Notice. Understand.
Other days I’ve seen small flowers growing in the gutter. The petals soft pink, delicate, tender. I’ve stood besotted over my first glimpse of the soft blush of mauves, cream, lavenders, and faintest hint of green on the fresh blooms of a yucca. I’ve watched a raven as big as a 2 yr. old walk upright across the street, birds twirling in a mating dance high overhead, and I know where the bunnies are. I’ve found roots that broke ground & wore down to look like large foot prints. Observed the white and pink clover spread day by day across the park lawn, and noted the slow addition of plants in a neighbor’s landscape project. I know the visitors, like the hawks that stayed three days.
See the everyday unseen.
I’d not intended to live close to The Rose Garden. I’m 2 blocks away by accident, or perhaps not. Here on my yearly sojourn since moving away, squeezed to find a home in November (read, low inventory), only weeks left before I returned east to pack, I was bent. I know this town, how I live in it. I knew what I wanted and yes, needed. I preferred the north side. It wasn’t looking good when I said, “OK, angels, I’ll take the rose garden.” The next two houses that showed up were right here. I mean, the.next.two.
There’s a bigger plan.
Twyla Tharp’s book, “The Creative Habit” has been on my bookshelf more than 10 yrs. I’m reading it for the first time. She talks about rituals for getting into a creative space. I’ve written about the same in my book “The Writer’s Block Myth.” And yet, her’s opened my eyes to the fullness here.
One day, drawn to walk up the opposite side of the park than the one I usually walk down, I saw for the first time a huge tree rising above the others. The canopy of the giant is full, tall, shaped like a perfect soft-edged cone. The bottom of the canopy’s immensely wide. A van could drive under and never graze a branch or feel a drop of rain. The first day I stood beneath it and looked up I was awed by the thick, stair-step arms of branches that radiated out like rivers. I came back with my camera. In the photos those branches look like giant undulating spider arms. The lower branches off one side below the stair-step, the ones I felt were arms of Grandmothers who came before, didn’t look that way at all. And the shelter of her canopy. . .shattered by light. It was impossible to capture what I saw and felt.
Each morning I walk to that big tree, stand under and look up, up, up. And as I walk back toward home, hunting the sprinkling of clover in the grass with hopes bees find them before the mowers, I wonder what exactly this ritual is about. This relationship with a tree that feels intimate and full of discovery. Perhaps it’s about being alive, connected to the mystery I can touch. Perhaps it’s about cracking open to Creativity. Perhaps all of that. After all, it’s the heart of my work.
- What’re your rituals for getting back to center when you feel bent?
- What rituals do you have before you begin writing or creative work?
- When you’re out & about, what do you notice around you most ?
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