Watching the Mountain

…I am watching the mountain. And the second I verbalize this awareness in my brain, I cease to see the mountain…. I am opaque, so much black asphalt.

I look at the mountain, which is still doing its tricks, as you look at a still-beautiful face belonging to a person who was once your lover in another country years ago: with fond nostalgia, and recognition, but no real feeling save a secret astonishment that you are now strangers. Thanks. For the memories. It is ironic that the one thing that all religions recognize as separating us from our creator — our very self-consciousness — is also the one thing that divides us from our fellow creatures. It was a bitter birthday present from evolution, cutting us off at both ends. I get in the car and drive home.
~Annie Dillard from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

We drive up the highway an hour or so to lose ourselves rather than become more self-conscious. We want to be witness to grander things.

Once we turn the bend into Heather Meadows, Mount Shuksan suddenly appears, overwhelming the landscape. There is simply nothing else to look at so I stand there gawking, forgetting to breathe.
Then I realize that I have become more self-conscious rather than less: here am I at the foot of this incredible creation, wondering at how blessed I am to be there, and it becomes all about me. The mountain has been here for eons and will continue to be here for eons, and we’re merely passing through, bubbles floating on the unending stream of time.

Yesterday we were completely alone in what typically is a place of many gawkers, all setting up tripods and clicking cameras. It was absolutely silent – even the birds had abandoned the chilly hills for warmer climes lower down.

Most remarkable yesterday was the stillness meant there was a double delight: two mountains, reflection and the real thing herself. It is the most glass-like the lakes have been on our many visits.

We had to finally climb in the car and head back down the highway to home. I carry these images back with me to remember that moment of awestruck witness. The image isn’t the real thing, it isn’t even the real reflection. Yet it is me watching the mountain watching me back.

It just might be about me after all.

The Momentum of Existence

Sometimes you don’t get a chance
To pause and rest
Even to just take it all in
Sometimes life just goes too fast
And if you halt, even for a moment
You could get rolled over
By the momentum of existence
So, push yourself and keep going
Because once you stop
You may not get started again
And if you need a breather
Do it after the big stuff is done –
I guarantee you the view
Will be a whole lot better
~Eric Nixon “The Momentum of Existence” from Equidistant

Sunrise and sunset happen so reliably every day, but I’m often too busy to be there to witness them. I miss some great shows because I don’t get up early enough or get home from work in time or simply don’t bother to look out the window.

These are brilliant light and shadow shows that are free for the taking if only I pause, take a breather, and watch.

The view keeps getting better the older I get. The momentum of daily life is pausing purposely to allow me, breathless, to take it all in.

Here You Are, Alive

And that is just the point… how the world, moist and beautiful, calls to each of us to make a new and serious response. That’s the big question, the one the world throws at you every morning. “Here you are, alive. Would you like to make a comment?

~Mary Oliver

I’d like to make a comment this morning. Here we are, alive.

Too much time is spent trudging through the hours, unaware of the privilege of each breath.

The just-born and the nearly-dying know the preciousness of each moment. The rest of us need regular reminders each day- being alive is the responsibility to not waste a single minute.

As I look in the eyes of this new little soul, I am struck dumb and all my senses wrung dry: we are like bells pealing our witness of Glory. We are meant to respond.

Struck and wrung. Struck and ringing.

A Diffusion of Sunlight

There is a gold light in certain old paintings
That represents a diffusion of sunlight.
It is like happiness, when we are happy.
It comes from everywhere and from nowhere at once, this light…
~Donald Justice from Collected Poems

The Beeches, painting by Asher Brown Durand at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Living in a place where golden light is scarce amidst the universal gray, I find myself watching out for it to capture it. Like happiness, I am grateful for its unexpected appearance, no matter how brief.

Having witnessed gilded light and known happiness, I know they will come again. It takes getting up early and being opened to joy coming from everywhere and nowhere at once.

Blessings abound when I ready myself for them.

So Others See What I See

Tonight at dusk we linger by the fence
around the garden, watching the wound husks
of moonflowers unclench themselves slowly,
almost too slow for us to see their moving—
you notice only when you look away
and back, until the bloom decides,
or seems to decide, the tease is over,
and throws its petals backward like a sail
in wind, a suddenness about this as though
it screams, almost the way a newborn screams
at pain and want and cold, and I still hear
that cry in the shout across the garden
to say another flower is about to break.
I go to where my daughter stands, flowers
strung along the vine like Christmas lights,
one not yet lit. We praise the world by making
others see what we see. So now she points and feels
what must be pride when the bloom unlocks itself
from itself. And then she turns to look at me.
~James Davis May “Moonflowers” from
32 Poems Magazine, (Number 16.2, Winter, 2018)

Ever since I was a kid, I have had the need to share something special I’ve seen: a “hey, have you seen this too?” pointing it out to another to then witness it again through their eyes – that sharing can make it even sweeter. I guess that is much of what this blog is about.

Sometimes others can see what I see; sometimes not. Sometimes others wonder what has gotten into me.

I was an odd farm kid, no question: a summer twilight’s entertainment might be watching the evening primrose blossoms open at night. It, like the moonflower of the above poem, is one of a few night blooming plants meant to attract pollinating moths.   Its tall stems are adorned by lance shaped leaves, with multiple buds and blooms per stem.

Each evening, and it was possible to set one’s watch by its punctuality, only one green wrapped bud per stem opens, revealing a bright yellow blossom with four delicate veined petals, a rosette of stamens and a cross-shaped stigma in the center, rising far above the blossom.  The yellow was so vivid and lively, it seemed almost like a drop of sun was being left on earth to light the night.  By morning, the bloom would begin to wither and wilt under the real sunlight, somehow overcome with the brightness, and would blush a pinkish orange as it folded upon itself, ready to die and drop from the plant in only a day or two, leaving a bulging seed pod behind.

I would settle cross-legged on our damp lawn at twilight, usually right before dusk fell, to watch the choreography of the opening of evening primrose blossoms.  Whatever the trigger was for the process of the unfolding, there would be a sudden loosening of the protective green husk, in a nearly audible release.  Then over the course of about a minute, the overlapping yellow petals would unfurl, slowly, gently, purposefully in an unlocking action that revealed their pollen treasure trove inside.  

It was like watching time lapse cinematography, only this was an accelerated, real time flourish of sudden beauty, happening right before my eyes.  It was magic. I always felt privileged to witness each unveiling as few flowers would ever allow us to behold their birth. 

My brother wasn’t nearly as impressed when I tried to lure him into becoming audience with me. That’s okay; I was always underwhelmed by the significance of his favorite team’s touchdowns that he insisted in sharing with me.

It’s all praiseworthy as long as one among us notices.


That Witnessing Presence

Sometimes the mountain
is hidden from me in veils
of cloud, sometimes
I am hidden from the mountain
in veils of inattention, apathy, fatigue,
when I forget or refuse to go
down to the shore or a few yards
up the road, on a clear day,
to reconfirm
that witnessing presence.

~Denise Levertov “Witness”

Even on the days when the mountain is hidden behind a veil of clouds, I have every confidence it is there.  In the off-chance that it might be visible if we took the time to drive up the highway to the foot of it, we did just that last night, risking seeing nothing but pea soup clouds at the higher elevation. Mount Baker remained behind its impenetrable veil, unseen.

A bit lower, at the foot of Mount Shuksan, initially massive clouds obscured it completely – invisible to us except the knowledge that we knew it was there as we had been in that exact spot before and witnessed it first hand. Yet due to powerful winds that blow in the Cascades, over the course of a few minutes Shuksan was exposed before our eyes in all its glory, first in shadowy profile and then crystal clear reality: it was there, movingly unmoved, a revelation of constancy.

No, it had not vanished overnight, gone to another county, blown up or melted down.  My vision isn’t always penetrating enough to see it through cloud cover, but it is still there. 

I know this and have faith it is true even when, within a few minutes, the clouds blew back over the mountain’s face and veiled it completely again.

Some days I simply don’t bother to look for the mountains, so preoccupied I walk right past their obvious grandeur and presence. Then they reach out to me and call me back.  There are times when I turn a corner on the farm and glance up, and there Baker is, a silent and overwhelming witness to beauty and steadfastness.  I literally gasp at not noticing before, at not remembering how I’m blessed by it being there even at the times I can’t be bothered.

The mountains confirm my lack of witness and still stay put to hold me fast yet another day.  And so I keep coming back to gaze, sometimes just at clouds, yearning to lift the veil, and lift my own veil, just one more time.

Trying Not to Miss a Thing

We are here to witness the creation and abet it. We are here to notice each thing so each thing gets noticed. Together we notice not only each mountain shadow and each stone on the beach but, especially, we notice the beautiful faces and complex natures of each other. We are here to bring to consciousness the beauty and power that are around us and to praise the people who are here with us. We witness our generation and our times. We watch the weather. Otherwise, creation would be playing to an empty house.….A shepherd on a hilltop who looks at a mess of stars and thinks, ‘There’s a hunter, a plow, a fish,’ is making mental connections that have as much real force in the universe as the very fires in those stars themselves.
~Annie Dillard from Life Magazine’s “The Meaning of Life”

I can feel overwhelmed by the amount of “noticing” I need to do in the course of my work every day.  Each patient deserves my full attention for the few minutes we are together.  I start my clinical evaluation the minute I walk in the exam room and begin taking in all the complex verbal and non-verbal clues sometimes offered by another human being.   What someone tells me about what they are feeling may not always match what I notice:  the trembling hands, the pale skin color, the deep sigh, the scars of self injury.  I am their audience and a witness to their struggle; even more, I must understand it in order to best assist them.  My brain must rise to the occasion of taking in another person and offering them the gift of being noticed.  It is distinctly a form of praise: they are the universe for a few moments and I’m grateful to be part of it.

Being conscious to what and who is around me at all times is simultaneously exhilarating and exhausting.  I must reduce the expanse of creation to fit my limited synapses, so I can take it all in without exploding with the overload, to make sense of the “mess” around me and within me.

Noticing is only the beginning.  It concludes with praise and gratitude.