January seems to be a time of reflection and realigning our goals and aspirations. The older I get the more I realize less really is more. When you’re young that sounds counter intuitive, but as we age, we get it. So many things drop by the wayside over the years as we hone in and focus on the things that are really important, almost none of which are material.
These last few COVID drenched years have been a challenge to navigate, especially for those of us working with the public. I’ve been lucky. I teach painting and drawing, and my students have been so glad to be creating with other people that they’ve done it all when necessary: masking, vaccinating, social distancing, and most of all, laughing and being kind. If we’ve learned anything through this time it’s that other people matter and they matter a lot, even the ones we don’t know well or even at all.
In the early days of COVID we were staying home, which was pretty isolating. I tend toward the introverted side of the scale and as an artist and writer that usually works mostly from home, I was fine. Even I was glad to be back out in the world, though, with family, friends, and students as time went on.
I think we learned that it was the simple things that made us happy, whether it was reading a good book, cooking a lovely meal, or taking a walk in nature. The number of people that got outside and discovered new places, even in their own neighborhoods, was actually encouraging during a time of much discouragement.
Like many others we focused a lot on decluttering. As we age we realize our home has become the repository for many of our parents’ things as well as our now-grown children’s, and we had a crowded basement, closets, and eaves. Over the months we were home we slowly got through many boxes and piles, sending all sorts of things to thrift shops as well as the landfill. It amazes me how much of what was saved was actually trash worthy, not save or give away worthy. What was up with that?
We cleaned out our pantry and freezer as well, afterwards making sure we made lists and bought only what we needed and would use from now on. We mostly make our own cleaning products but switched over to cardboard boxed laundry detergent and now use bar shampoos and conditioners that come in paper wrapping, not plastic, as well. Our goal was simple: waste less.
All of this not only gave us more room, but more time. A lot more time. For me, this means more time walking in nature, sketching and writing. Instead of reading 30 or 40 books a year, I read almost 80 in 2021.
It seems almost treasonous to aim to live a simple life with little concern for consuming, to grow our own herbs, flowers, and vegetables. We are replacing invasive plants with native plants and enjoying the increased numbers of butterflies, bees, and birds that use them. Little things add up.
Recently I happened upon an area known to attract snowy owls each winter. I’ve heard that hundreds of people are visiting this area to see these beautiful birds. Most are well behaved but some have been witnessed chasing the birds, hoping to get photos of the birds in flight. This is not really acceptable behavior, folks. Enjoy them from a respectable distance. If you can take a reasonable photo of an owl with your cell phone, you are way too close. Give them their space. It’s simple. Enjoy them in person. If you have a camera with a long lens, take a few shots, but let someone else take a few shots, too. In other words, be kind and generous to both the owls and the people. It’s simple.
As I walk the beach in the early morning light I am constantly reminded of the joys of simplicity. Watching the colors of sunrise streak across the sky, listening to the gentle whooshing of waves against the sand, these are the simple things that fill our hearts up with happiness. We live in an incredibly beautiful place. There are lots of us now, and though many of us may bemoan that fact, the reality is that many, many people love this place we call home. We need to remember to share but also not to love the place to death.
It's a simple thing to bring along a bag on our walks to pick up trash as we go. It’s a simple thing to smile at the people we meet, to connect for a brief moment. On a beach near my home a young woman collapsed in cardiac arrest this past week and was saved by passersby. Some people walk the beaches scanning for stranded sea turtles and others stand alone at the ends of jetties looking out over the expansive sea, mourning the loss of a family member or friend. None of us know why these others are walking along the shore with us, but put simply, they need it as much as we do.
It’s a new year and I think we all hope it will be a good year. It’s a simple hope, isn’t it? As I listen to the birds begin to stir on a dark morning filled with the sound of sleet hitting my windows, I hope we can all slow down our racing minds for a few moments each day, step outdoors, and enjoy the simple things nature has laid out before us. Air, water, food, shelter; all of them depend on nature. Let’s help her out by walking gently on the earth and cleaning up after ourselves. It’s a simple thing, but if we all do it, it could be huge.