The necessary art of noticing

It has been a year. All over the world it has been a year, or longer.

When have we ever been so bound together and yet so separated?

I realized a year ago that I needed to journal my experience of this pandemic. I had several blank books of varying number of pages. I rejected the 35-page one—no way it would be long enough. So, the 70-page or the 110-page book? 110 pages, at a page per day, was an intimidating commitment; on the other hand, I was pretty sure this pandemic would not be over in 110 days. I began.

I am now on the fourth 110-page journal.

Each day I’ve recorded some item of Covid-news from the media, or from my life, or the lives of my family and friends.

Meanwhile, I go for long walks. I’m fortunate to live where I can take daily walks uphill and downhill with my dog, through woods and meadows. I often sit for extended periods in the woods to watch and listen. I began to carry binoculars, because it turns out that if I have them I use them, and I see more—I’ve seen species of birds I didn’t even know live here. I’ve also carried a hand lens to look into the complex worlds of mosses and lichens. I began to take photos and make sketches of various flowers, birds, animals, insects, mushrooms, identifying as many as I could. Then daily I began to make a little colored pencil drawing of one of them in my Covid journal, along with entries about unemployment and vaccine research and loneliness and deaths. The journal, which could have become a grim obsession, became an impetus to pay attention. It has helped to keep me grounded—this worldwide phenomenon is going on, and all the while the natural world goes on in its infinite variety, in its thousands and millions of years.

It has been a year—a year that will be a dividing point in world history. Yet it is also a year among millions of years. And it has been a year in which I have locked down into opening to the art of noticing.

Night on the Great River

Steering my little boat towards a misty islet,
I watch the sun descend while my sorrows grow:
In the vast night the sky hangs lower than the treetops,
But in the blue lake the moon is coming close.

Meng Hao-jan (c. 689-740)
(translated by William Carlos Williams)


It’s a foul and fearsome thing, this thick choking residue of raging wildfires that are far enough away, but far too close. They have not burned my home, but they have burned or are burning the homes of others, right now.

A neighbor mused…”It’s creepy to step outside and smell it. Have it sting your eyes. Smoke-essense of trees. Ferns. Hazelnut orchards. Barns. Houses. Cars. Birds. Bears. And others.”

May I be respectful as I inhale. And exhale.

Inside looking out.

Looking Through Veils

It is the week leading up to Easter.

When my children were children I tried to think of something I could do at home that would give an impression of the week’s significance. I thought about the light—not just the light, but the Light. I looked to the window toward the light outside, which in the northern hemisphere grows stronger this time of year. As I looked at the light coming through the window, I noticed the window pane itself: streaked, spotty, fly-specked, rain-splotched. It admitted light, but it also stood between us and the light.

Thus it began that every Easter week I wash windows, to usher in the new Light. It’s a homely metaphor, and I wouldn’t have imagined something so mundane could become a spiritual practice; but anything can be a prayer, and this became one of mine.

This year millions and millions of us throughout the world are inside looking out. Windows to the outside world have never been more important. Light, within and without, is of the essence.

As I am washing my windows this week, I am thinking of you. I hope you are safe. Love and Light to you, to all of us.


Reaching for equilibrium


I have turned off the radio.

In my part of the world we happen to be in the midst of a series of absolutely perfect spring days. Absolutely. Perfect.

Like people all over the world, I am nervous, trying to be careful and cautious and non-calamitous. The incessant news takes its toll, making it easy to forget how beautiful the day is.

I go into my light-filled studio. When it’s beautiful outside, it’s especially beautiful in here. I want to make something yellow. I take an oil crayon in hand and begin to color the blank page, just playing, just feeling the feeling of yellow. Add another yellow over it, now there is some depth; add some little patches of light orange, then some more orangey orange, then some turquoise marks and some little orange marks and yellow marks, some white, smear the colors around a bit, oh, this is nice!

Is it a good painting? Heck if I know. It doesn’t matter, because the involvement with the color is what I needed; and now I am filled with yellow’s shining glow, in the face of what we face.

Happy equinox, everyone! We are all in this together. Some places it is spring, some places it is autumn; but everywhere it is equinox.