• Gretel Enck


Updated: Mar 21, 2019

It’s always a happy time when I come home to find the latest High Country News in the mailbox, and a happy Saturday activity to bike to a coffee shop and read it. Today I had every intention of biking out to the Bellvue Bean to re-introduce my bicycle to the glory of spring after some recent, dramatic April snowstorms. But alas the wind was stronger than I so we turned around and went to a nice place in town for an iced coffee.

This week’s issue has a story about paying attention to the small spring flowers that may go unnoticed. The author concludes with one word of advice, “the single most important word I ever say as a naturalist,” he explains, in response to anything of wonder in nature: “Look.”

Oh yes, it is spring—my favorite season of the year. The time of year when the earth wakes up, I regain my energy, the sun gets up before I do, and popping up all over are signs in nature begging us to look. This is the time of year of bulb pay-off—that exquisite series of moments when the diligence of autumn comes poking out of the ground, then buds, then bursts into dazzling color against the mud and hesitant grass. This is the season of smells long dormant through the winter—again the mud, sunshine on dead fields, the neighbor’s first barbecue. And there on the lake I pass heading to work are white pelicans, dependable as retirees coming back from Baja.

Recently I’ve had the good fortune to have some really great conversations. It’s not good fortune, actually, but the diligence of making it happen. A couple of weeks ago I said aloud that I was craving a profound experience, knowing the folly of that wish: first, you can’t predict what will feel profound, and second, profound is in the eye of the beholder and maybe I just needed to behold my current experiences as profound. And then I stumbled into a conversation with a colleague that very nicely fit the bill of profound. After which I realized that a rich, honest, probing conversation is just about my favorite definition of a profound experience. Happily, the conversation itself spent time on the nature of human connection. And I was reminded that I have all the components for human connection that I under-utilize on a regular basis.

So this week I’m touching base with some old friends, having some overdue meaty conversations, making appointments for more. I’m also taking a slow dive into something that feels like the crossroads of many things in my life right now—a meditation into the nature of death. Does that seem morbid? Why do we let the fear in ourselves keep us from learning about the true nature of death? Some of it is human nature, I suppose, some is societal. But many philosophers and Buddhist teachers would suggest that we cannot understand the nature of life, of our precious human life, without really examining with our full hearts the nature of death. How would I live my life if I very deeply connected with the reality of my death?

I just wrote a note to one of my long-losts whom I get to see next month and asked, “Is there a job I can have that just requires me to sit around with my friends and discuss the meaning of life?” Her response was to ask if we can job-share!

My author today talks about shooting stars, both the small flower blooming now in his Oregon woods and the meteoric wonders above us on a clear night. “What do we owe the natural world that sustains us,” he asks. “The response that I encourage is simple gratitude. And the most basic expression of gratitude is to be mindful of the gift: to pay attention.”

I love it when I read something that so succinctly tells me what I already know in a way that makes the learning/re-learning a delight. To Pay Attention. It’s what we owe the people who sustain us, the plants and animals that provide us food, really everything in our known worlds. Because if the nature of life is to die, shouldn’t we really learn how to make the best of it? The point of life is life, I’ve read. I suspect, as well, the point of death is life. L’chaim.

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