Pay Attention

I paused at a place where the trail curves and rises in a subtle incline. Gaps in the patches of trees broke up the shoreline like openings in a fence. Across the water a large stand of tress jutted out into the lake. Their tall black spines set against the sky the color of flint, downstrokes of ink. Beautifully obstinate. Fog had poured itself into every crook and crevice of the landscape. The hills and houses I knew existed on the shore beyond were muted, disappeared through blissful oblivion. This is fog’s gift—a gentle blotting out and softening of the mean edges of things or, in this case, life in a pandemic.

This trail has become one of my regular routes since the virus stole through our cities, towns, and houses, stealing lives in the process. Whether in fog or a complete black out, I could walk it easily. Before, I didn’t even know it existed. This is a gift of another kind—awakening to our ability to explore and discover, talents crowed out by the click of instant gratification.

On foot, the elements and the surroundings vie for your attention, which is what I love about spending time outdoors. This is my kind of “driven to distraction.” It would be rude not to stop and stand still for a few moments gazing out over the lake that you’ve visited in every season, but this morning has transformed itself into a scene from another time and place. What a shame to hurry past a stand of birches without taking a minute to admire their pale bark, gleaming clean and white like hope itself. Such a waste to miss out on noticing the way the light skims across the tops of brambles anointing them with little halos. Maybe the fog brings something into focus previously obscured or overlooked.  

The poet Mary Oliver wrote, “pay attention, be astonished, tell about it.” More and more these days, that seems like one of the only rules worth practicing. It’s become way too easy to let it all go by in a blur until we’re knocked on our asses and benched, where a lot of us have found ourselves this year. The invitation to crack open our hearts and minds along with our eyes renews itself every day. It costs nothing, but it’s worth everything.

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