With all due respect to Oscar Wilde who smugly opined, ‘conversation about the weather is the last refuge of the unimaginative,’ let’s talk about the weather we’ve been having lately: Not just the insufferable heat and humidity in Memphis, but also the bizarre weather that has befallen the coast of Maine where I have been since late June.
When I arrived on June 23, the skies were bright, the sun was shining, the brisk breeze was cool. The next day, what sailors refer to as a ‘pea-soup fog’ descended like a soggy mantle over this part of the midcoast, and except for one or two beautiful clear cool days, we have had mist, drizzle, rain, and/or fog ever since.
Clearly, the climate change we have been warned about for decades is now a reality and there are plenty of measures we can take to stem the tide of abuse of our air, sea, and land. Up here this summer, I have decided to pay attention, to see the land and sea and sky around me as if for the first time. To pay attention to something is to give it value, appreciate it, protect it.
This summer, by paying attention to what’s going on outside my window, I’ve learned that fog comes in various forms:
pea-soup thick or gossamer thin. I stand in the yard, quietly absorbing the stillness of ancient spruce trees. I’ve watched strong wind whip up white caps on Penobscot Bay, sending them crashing against the dark rocks and spraying water over the sea wall.
With my Merlin app at the ready, I’ve heard cries and songs of osprey, herring gulls, song sparrows, goldfinch, and wild geese. And thanks to all the rain and mist, flowers blossom and flourish: lupine, lady’s mantle, Queen Anne’s lace, roses. Every morning, and often every evening, I walk down to the large, freshly planted vegetable garden where my friend Michelle the gardener plants, mulches, weeds, and waters the fledgling plants, tending them like the good mother she is. Yesterday I spied a baby squash and a small green tomato and picked a few butter lettuce leaves for our dinner salad. Kale, carrots, tomatoes, peas, and squash will be ready to pick in the next few weeks.
Setting off for a walk last Thursday on the dirt and gravel ‘driveway’ that runs beside the shoreline, I noticed something off to my right that I had never seen before. Under a tangle of branches beside an old cedar tree, a groundhog was poised ramrod straight on its haunches, calmly staring at I know not what.
I stopped, thinking it would run away at any moment, but it did not. It remained still, silent, staring, and I did, too, until I slowly stepped away, savoring the gift I had been given: an outward and visible sign of paying full attention.
Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh lived his life paying attention. In his book Being Peace, he offers us what he calls a short poem:
Breathing in, I calm my body
Breathing out, I smile.
Dwelling in the present moment
I know this is a wonderful moment. (p15)