Photo by Gina Fiedel at Hendry’s Beach, Santa Barbara, winter 2016

Standing In Water

Walking today on top of crusty, dry-baked clay on the woodsy trail along the creek bed below the upper fields, I noticed the sharp cracks in the dirt. They traveled this way and that, with their indeterminate depth, disturbances where the earth couldn’t quite hold itself together enough to avoid some small parting. My feet and the eight feet of my dogs glanced along the surface as if it were nothing much and the cracks didn’t mean anything. I looked at the scrabble of pebbly bits that had been churned up and left in little piles. They ignored the cracks too as if they had conquered them as did the twigs, leaves and lengths of fallen branches from the last winds.

Shadows of trees were gracing the trail keeping the light dim and suddenly as I was moving forward looking down, they were gone and the only shadow remaining was my own. It was a stunning moment like a pause in a symphony that transitions to a new slower tempo.

I’d hit an open stretch. One that wasn’t densely populated and the light found me straight on. I was exposed. My shadow was impressively bigger than I am. I greeted it and the sun that birthed it with gladness and with humoring acknowledgement of its connection to me. I called it Mine. But if pressed, I would admit to you that I know it wasn’t only mine.

Instead, it was a small part of the collaboration of things. This little community of dirt, rocks, light, vegetation, trees, dogs, a person and all the things I couldn’t see — the things that weren’t quite registering — formed in just the way it was in that very moment on this stretch of trail in woods, in a town that I call home.

The cracks transformed to vaguely somber patterns as I observed them, crawling now like silent spiders I didn’t want to step on. Evidence of the ground being parched. The thought crossed my mind- the surface I was walking along has been living. The cracks became proof. Its life may have had nothing to do with my own until I touched it with my feet and breathed its air. But it was there all along. We just weren’t joined yet.

Back in the fall, in preparation for an El Nino winter, I pulled my old rubber rain boots out of the shed only to find that they’d disintegrated from lack of use. I was sad because they were red and had handles to pull them on and I felt like a happy child every time I wore them. I loved those red splashers so I went on a search for new ones that would delight me just as much. I loved looking for new boots. Lucky and persistent, I found just what I was looking for.

On an afternoon that slipped in and out of clouds and rain, I went for a walk on the beach in my new boots. The tide was low and I could walk through water that had nothing much to do with waves or turbulence. Peaceful, tranquil, gently swaying water that turned rocks into gems and gave me a look at the world underneath.

Thinking back on it now, it was similar to the walk I took today with my gaze turned to the ground. I became part of the landscape.

The immenseness of the ocean and the small piece of it that I occupied, put in parallel to the trail and its ingredients and how the sun in the sky could amplify its message to me opens my heart to the scale of things. The sensation of the water being there with me, allowing me, inviting me in this moment and perhaps not in the next. It felt intimate and private. The small poolish spot I stood in became a temporary home. Its lack of separation from the whole of the vast body it belonged to helped me to feel part of its bigness. And very small at the same time.

In conversation with a friend later this morning, the idea of scale came up. We were talking about the things that can have the power to make us feel helpless, hopeless even and the way we live what’s happening. And then we remembered to remember and to remind each other of something that makes everything more interesting, lends purpose, a freshness, and also comfort. Scale. When something hits with a thunk of discomfort and I look down at the ground I am standing on I become part of it and it becomes part of me. We join. It becomes the world and I am alive in that world. And it is alive in mine. The collaboration gains momentum and I find I am both no longer alone and also more able to turn toward the sadness I feel without prejudice. I don’t even have to wait for a thunk. Just to look and see.

Those upper fields right now, with the only-in-Spring, tall green mustard and grasses to wade through until I reach the trail in the woods are just like the water at the ocean I walked in wearing my new purple boots. Each of these places swallow me a bit and turn me into a co-conspirator. A collaborator.

We join and turn the ordinary scale of things sideways.

March, 2016