Golden fingers of sunlight reached up through the trees, beckoning me. I pulled on my jeans and a sweater, packed my sketchbook and binoculars in my backpack, swigged a last gulp of coffee and drove off to see and hear what was happening out in the world.
The morning was a cool but clear one at the wetland area where I started my walk. Reflections shone off the pond with little distortion as red-winged blackbirds declared dominance from every other cattail. A large female Cooper’s hawk sat silently on a holly tree branch hanging over the mirror-like water, hidden from view as she watched for prey. My first yellow warbler of the season sang from a thicket of thorny bushes behind me.
Wildflowers are slow to bloom in many areas this year and where I usually find trout lilies in this calendar week I found only a few speckled leaves and tiny buds. The filmy yellow blossoms of spicebush that color certain spring woodlands with a veil of gold were also still tightly furled, awaiting a warm sunny day to burst into bloom.
Woodpeckers were busy, calling and pounding, flying and chasing. There were downy, hairy, red-bellied woodpeckers and flickers, all making their ardent pleas and warnings. Nuthatches, both red and white breasted, were also active. Both species nest in these woods and it seemed that at least one pair was returning to where they fledged three youngsters last year.
As the sun continued to rise, the woods were full of robin songs, jay calls and the chips of chipmunks. There was a light skim of green over the landscape, mostly from the tiny leaves of briars and wild roses. The red and gold blossoms of red or swamp maples were scarlet against a turquoise sky and for a moment I had to stop and just breathe it all in.
There are several well-placed benches along this trail, and I chose one of my favorites to sit on and watch the world go by. As I sat still and silent I felt the woods around me take a deep breath and open up. I did the same. My view included a swampy area filled with bright green mossy bumps, a few lichen-covered large rocks, and many leafless trees. The area attracts warblers as they arrive in their northbound migration, and over the years I’ve been greeted by many jewel-like feathered visitors as I’ve sat on this bench. It’s still early for the big influx of warblers, but two pine warblers engaged in a singing match, most likely to set up territory, and a towhee hopped on the ground, scratching in the leaves, not far from where I sat.
What would the world be like if everyone had to stop for an hour, even a half hour, and go sit in the woods, a field, a marsh or by a pond or ocean alone without a thing to do but watch, listen and feel? No phone, no camera, no book, no handheld project like knitting or whittling. No fishing, no birdwatching, no to-do list or puzzles to solve. Just sitting still, taking in the natural world. Can you imagine?
The first thing I always notice when I begin one of these sit-and-stay hours is that I itch for something to do, to read, to, I don’t know, be productive in some way. I have learned to meditate over the years, but I’ll be the first to admit I am a twitchy, uncomfortable meditator. My monkey mind is a circus of monkeys that want to jump around and play and pull each other’s tails and then raise a ruckus as they all tell on each other. Over time I’ve learned to ignore them, to just breathe and quiet my mind, but it hasn’t been easy. Sitting still with nothing to do out in the woods is almost as uncomfortable, at least at first.
Just sitting isn’t something most of us are comfortable doing and yet, sitting still in the woods or at the beach may be one of the best things we can do for our well-being. After the first few minutes, nature forgets we are there. Birds move closer. Butterflies and bees land on us. Mice, squirrels, and toads pass by us as if we weren’t there. I’ve had turtles walk right up to me, birds land on my head, and once a baby rabbit fell asleep on my shoe.
On this day I felt as if I could feel the leaves pressing to open, the plants pushing against the earth to sprout. I heard fish jump and ducks mutter. A big male turkey walked by only a few feet from me. He turned to look me right in the eye, a bit startled, perhaps, suddenly realizing a person was there. He raised his tail, turned to show me the back of his fan and stalked off as if I were the intruder in this peaceful scene, not him.
The rest of my day held multiple challenges, as days often do. My hour of stillness in the woods, realizing I was only a tiny, insignificant cog in this ridiculously sublime and miraculous wheel of life, made it all bearable, however. All I had to do was close my eyes and everything else fell into perspective. If a warbler can sing after arduously flying thousands of miles, so can I. I only wish I could do it half as well.