writer + artist

Nature’s Pace

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“Bark looks like islands. Nature’s map.”

I had written those few words next to a line drawing of bark in my sketchbook. I had stood close to a fir tree, so close I could inhale its smell, closely inspecting and drawing with my black pen the lines that I saw. Now that I look at the drawing it doesn’t really resemble bark anymore. But it certainly looks like islands.

How often do we take the time to see? The time to listen? The time to be?

I thought about this a lot last month during a three-week creative residency at Bloedel Reserve on Bainbridge Island. A creative residency is one of those wonderful things that allows you the time and space to let your creative mind wander, and I am so grateful for getting that time. I spent those three weeks with as much physical as mental wandering. After all, the two do go hand in hand.

Here’s a little journal entry, written after an afternoon walk:

It’s 2pm. I’m feeling groggy, in that afternoon lull. Coffee, I think first, then remind myself that a walk will do me better. I step outside, the afternoon sun cooled by the wind. It’s a mid-August afternoon, that time in the summer when the season feels fleeting, as if you have to grasp on to every last day to make use of it. There’s some sense of nostalgia, for the days already lost. The fact that it gets darker earlier.

The field of yellowed grass sways in the wind, the individual stalks that stick up all curved in one direction, like trees branches on the coastline. Each stalk seems so fragile, but they all hold up in the breeze. I stop and listen. I can hear them moving. There’s a hum of insects too, small organisms stuck in the depths of the stalks, singing along to the summer breeze.

We so often say that we need to “clear our heads.” As if we needed to dump out what was inside of them. I often feel the same, and an afternoon walk is often an excuse to do just that. But am I clearing my head or filling it with new things? The mind doesn’t go blank, it wanders. It’s allowed to think, jump from idea to idea. A walk is as much a stroll for my legs as it is for my head.

A week of daily walks has caused me to slow down. It’s also made me want more; each day the walk is a little longer, or perhaps I even take two, one in the morning, one in the afternoon. I’m appalled to even admit that I haven’t been doing this at home.

I continue along the path coming to the pond. Here the smell in the air changes, it still has that musty forest depth to it, but it’s a little brighter, a little greener here by the water’s edge. A lonely duck swims to join the others, a perfect “V” shape made by the wake behind it. Near the edge of the pond, a tree branch bows down, the tips of the leaves almost touching the water. Some of the leaves are dripping, although I am not sure why given the dry weather. The droplets roll off in regular intervals, hitting the water and causing circles to ripple out. They start alone, and as another one forms, they merge into each other. Two of them cause a Venn Diagram to form, before the ripples extend even further, softening into the water and disappearing.

I stop by a tree covered in moss. The bright green has been dried by the summer sun. Normally moist and lush, it’s almost crispy to the touch, yet its thickness keeps it soft. I place my hand on it gently, slowly pushing into the tree trunk. It feels as if I am pushing my hand against a pillow. I slide my hand up and down the tree, finally letting it come to rest and looking up into the branches. How much wisdom there is in the forest.

With every daily walk, I find that I am more perceptive, more aware, more curious. Perhaps it’s the forest getting used to me and offering me more, or perhaps I am just more attuned to everything around me, but it with every day that goes by I see new things that otherwise would have gone unnoticed.

There’s a brown shape that looks like bark on the path by my foot. Something tells me it isn’t bark and I stop. I pick it up and turn it over. A piece of a wasp’s nest. The honeycomb pattern is perfect, geometric yet soft, that balance that nature manages so well. I look into the tree above me, and I see that it’s there: the rest of the nest hanging off of the bottom branch. It has been built at the base of the branch, so that the next hugs the side of the tree. There is no noise, no movement, so I can only guess that the wasps have departed.

The piece of nest in my hand looks like it’s made of paper. On occasion, I will find small pieces of the outside of these nests. Layered pieces of gray paper that curl around to create a round shape. But this one isn’t just the outside. This is the depths of the nest, the honeycomb shape full of intricacies. Paper wasps gather fiber from dead trees and plant stems, mixing them with saliva and turning them into papery architectural works. Nature’s paper artists.

I keep staring at the piece of the wasp’s nest. I feel like a child again. Being in nature puts us back in that child state. A state of wonder, curiosity. A state where anything seems possible.

Why do we lose that perspective? Why do we lose that curiosity and that sense of exploration?

It feels like we have opted instead to numb ourselves to the world around us. To turn off the awe and wonder. Given the physical benefits of a state of awe, no wonder we all feel miserable.

That wonder comes at a slower pace. It comes at nature’s pace.

The pace of nature is the pace of us.

When we slow down, we pay attention. How much are we missing because we are just passing through?

This is where we came from. We may have invented the fast paced world of many connections, but our brains have yet to adapt. The modern world is too fast, too much. No wonder it causes anxiety.

Slowing down means returning to our normal pace.

I’ve been meditating on those words since coming home, since coming back to email, since coming back to the low grade anxiety of adult life. And the solution? Making time to slow down. Making time to talk a walk, even a short one. Making time to leave the phone behind and just go wander. Making space for nature in the in between moments.

It’s easy for me to crave the space of a residency, when the rest of the world falls away. Certainly I have spent the last week back at home daydreaming of those three weeks at Bloedel. You probably know the feeling; craving the luxury of time that’s only available to you when everything else is put on pause. But the secret is carving out that space on an everyday basis, even in the smallest of doses.

I took a short walk after lunch yesterday in the forest behind my house. It wasn’t a long walk. I had 25 minutes before I needed to be on a call and I knew that a walk would certainly be better than refreshing email or looking at Instagram.

The forest had its late summer smell, a smell that’s incredibly dry and earthy. It’s as if the forest has sucked up the essence of summer and is holding onto it until the first rain comes. I came into a clearing where the sun was breaking through the tall fir and cedar trees.

High above me in the middle of the clearing, two spider webs were suspended in mid-air. A feat of raw power, to connect their webs to the surrounding trees which stood far apart.

The sun shone through them, lighting up the strands. Without that ray of sunshine, I probably wouldn’t have seen them. I considered it my afternoon gift.

I walked a little further, then turned around to head back home. On the way back I put my hand on the bark of a tree. Just as a reminder to stop and be present. To slow my pace.

There is so much wisdom and beauty around us. We just have to choose to open ourselves to it.

Written by Anna Brones

September 7, 2018 at 08:36

One Response

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  1. Thank you, Anna. I’ll be keeping this in mind as I head to the ocean today. That is the place where I breathe. Sunrise at low tide with a red cruiser bike on the sand is the BEST!


    September 7, 2018 at 09:54

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