Finding Joy In The Familiar

By: Mary Richmond

Mary Richmond illustration.

There’s a lot that’s shiny and new out there in the world, both real and virtual. There are places we dream of visiting, books we long to read and things we hope to do. It can be easy to feel dissatisfied.

An unprecedented and constant chatter of news buzzes around us, subjecting us daily to insults and lies, arguments and nasty confrontations. It’s wearing on the heart and soul as well as the mind, I think. It’s too much. Sometimes we must walk away from it all, step outdoors without our phones and go breathe the salty fresh air we are so lucky to have at our finger and toe tips.

If you spend much time with little children you know that they can enumerate their favorite things without hesitation. “That’s my favorite thing!” they’ll say about an acorn until a minute later they see a toad. “THIS is my favorite thing!” they will squeal. This can go on all day. I’m not sure when this element of simple joy changes, but as we grow older we seem more likely to find fault in the things around us, rather than the joy that is just sitting there, waiting for us to discover or rediscover it. We seem to look for bigger, better, newer things.

Like many of you, I have my favorite places to walk. I have more than a few, actually. Over the years I have found myself returning again and again to some, in all seasons of the year. No matter how often I visit them, I find something wonderful to enjoy. Sometimes it is a new critter or plant but mostly I find joy in knowing that when I go to these favored spots I will find a reassuring familiarity.

One walk may have the perfect spot to view fall foliage reflected in still blue pond water on a crisp fall day. Another may have the most stunning vista of the salt marsh in spring as the shorebirds pass through. One of my favorites has the best lucky stones.

Close to my home there is a beach I walk so regularly I could probably walk it with my eyes closed and tell you stories along the way. I grew up on this beach as did my children and grandchildren. We know its tides, its dunes, its place in the life cycles of all the animals and plants that reside there. It is humble but it reminds me daily that while so many things change, some remain familiar and calming.

When I walk this beach, I know exactly where to find the gulls hiding from the wind, where the best scallop and whelk shells can be found and when the snow buntings arrive. I know where to watch for the northern harriers that winter there and when to expect the ospreys back each spring. They have returned each year on the same day for almost 20 years. I know where the creek that joins with the bay runs and when to find the blue crabs running with the tides. I know where the piping plovers prefer to nest and that the least terns have moved across the channel to a more isolated spot over the last 10 years.

Familiar places bring a certain comfort and joy to those who visit them. They are filled with memories but also solace and solitude. This beach I mention is where I went on the morning of Sept. 11 after watching the horror of two planes crashing into the World Trade Centers.

I couldn’t stay home and watch. I turned off the TV and went and sat at the beach on a beautiful September day and watched the water quietly roll in and out instead.

There’s something in the familiar that calms us, whether it is a daily routine or a favorite place. For me, nature is my healer, my mentor, my teacher and my safe and happy place. I go to the woods, the marsh, the fields and the beaches to remember who I am, what we all are. We are better than the news makes us out to be. We need to remember that.

Lately I have been sketching and painting tiny things, one thing to a page. It gives me the opportunity to be quiet with a small, familiar object that I may otherwise walk by without true appreciation. In just a week or so I have found myself slowing down and really looking at all the wonderful things that surround us every single day. They are simple things, familiar things, but in the end, they may be where we find the most joy each day. It’s working for me.