As we settle into the deep part of winter, letting go of the excitement of the holidays, it’s sometimes hard for me to be completely present with the season. We are dug in deep in ourselves, the season of death and rebirth. A deep lunar eclipse is coming tonight, time to release the old and welcome the new.. I am saddened that the poet Mary Oliver passed away a few days ago. I find myself looking forward to spring. “When would you like to go up to Lassen and open the cabin?”
While it’s appropriate to start planning spring and summer, there are special delights in the here and now. Some of it is introspection; I’m contemplating what is truly fulfilling for me, having released my career and identity as a software architect. I’m finding fulfillment in small pieces, by being as present and as receptive as I can, following small impulses and delights to see what fruit they bear…
A couple of days ago, Jen and I hiked a local trail loop that took us through a nearby neighborhood, where we found dozens of chestnut-looking objects scattered on the side of the road. Many of them were cracking open, with an emerging shoot reaching down toward the earth. Looking up the hill, it appeared then came from a large tree with a short trunk, and being the nerds we are, we both want to figure out what we were looking at. Jen found the answer first. These are nuts from a California Buckeye, Aesculus californica. We’ve both seen them on the ground before, and the trees are especially notable in the spring when they show beautiful large cones of white flowers.
Somewhere in my dim brain, I imagine these growing around my house and across the street, where 40-year-old Monterey pines are dying one by one and leaving lots of space for something new. I let the impulse flower into a project, and yesterday morning, I hop on my trail bike for the first time in a year, and take off to go pick some buckeye chestnuts I can plant.
The first thing I discover is that I’m really out of shape. Biking is not the same as Hiking! Huffing and puffing up the canyon at the end of our street, I take the trail loop that will return me to the neighborhood where we saw all the nuts on the ground. After perhaps ten minutes, I’m seriously winded, and stop up on the hillside across the canyon from our house to catch my breath. Nice muddy day, cool and cloudy, I’m enjoying myself, looking across at our house from a rare vantage point even as I wonder if I’m having a cardiac event. Turning to look up hill, I see many dozens of buckeye nuts on the ground not ten feet away, fallen from a huge 30-foot-wide tree.
Being a mental type, I have to think about my discovery for a second and compare my original target to this new bounty, but It doesn’t take long to jettison Plan A and take advantage of my windfall. The serendipity of it is amusing, especially because I momentarily consider continuing my ride to the original site where we first saw the sprouting nuts. How did I just happen to stop here, at the only buckeye tree on this trail? I hop off my bike, pick up a dozen nuts, and take the shorter path home.
Now I’ve planted them all around my house and across the street, and feel quite pleased with myself. I will need to protect the sprouts from deer, so fruition will take ongoing effort. However fulfillment is in the moment, not in the completion of a 20-year growing project. Mid-winter has its pleasures. Mary Oliver said it well,
Let me keep my mind on what matters,
which is my work,
which is mostly standing still and learning to be astonished.