Wherever you go, there you are

It is October. It is fifty degrees here in Seattle, and fall has descended. The leaves have started to change colors and drop, and there is the occasional smell of wood smoke in the air. The coffee shops everywhere are offering pumpkin spice lattes, and as some stores are merchandising for Halloween a tacky few are already on to Christmas. I am enjoying the crisp tang to the air and the rains are becoming more common again.

Fall has always been my favorite season and I really enjoy it although the seasons differ a bit depending where you live. Fall here feels different than a New York autumn like those of my childhood. Minnesota is yet another experience. I wonder if this time of the year brings many discernible differences for someone in a warmer clime like that of Texas. I may never find out as I don’t care for the heat.

I have been thinking about this lately as I try to stay mindful of my surroundings and the passing of the seasons is part of the awareness I cultivate. I’ve also been thinking about seasonal markers because of my haiku practice. I work with a haiku group that often assigns seasonal words for the haiku, but these seasonal words are collected from Japan. Some things remain the same, but many of their festivals and celebrations are different. They don’t have all the same flora and fauna that are in other places.

This year I think I’ll compile some season words that are specific to Seattle. As a transplant, I’m trying to notice what marks the season here. What makes Seattle itself and not somewhere else? I think these are valuable questions to ask, and I’ve noticed more clues since I’ve started wondering. Sometimes answers can only come once questions have been formulated. My brain is buzzing and my hand is up in the air. I’ve got lots to ask.

Your assignment, should you choose to accept it:
264. Start asking some questions about the place where you live. What makes it unique to itself? How does your town and region mark the seasons? Is that different than somewhere else you have lived?

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I love the change in the seasons. I’ve never been much of a fan of summer, so while others are mourning the summer’s demise I am looking forward to the fall. I love autumn and always have although it’s not nearly as marvelous here in Seattle as it was when I lived in New York–we got crisper air and therefore nicer leaves. It was more of a transition, although here it will cool down a bit and the rains will start coming back. This is still a win.

As a writer and a Zen girl, I try to be observant. One of the ways I hone my abilities to notice and stay in the present is through various forms of art. I love to draw. If you get very quiet and just observe a thing and draw what you see you’ll notice things you might never have noticed before. In order to draw something well you need to really look at it. The skill in your fingers will come with practice, but it all starts with the eye. Once you start drawing on a regular basis you’ll start studying things with a casual glance. Beware, as you may start to get distracted by the lovely curvature of your next teacup or the patterns on the light sconce in the hallway. You are starting to see, and it is good.

I also write haiku. In order to write about a brief moment you must first see that moment in all its detail. The more detail you have, the more choices you have as a writer when crafting your haiku. Writing is also a way to take a tour of your own brain. Writing exercises require you to use details you have stored up in your memory. I particularly like writing exercises that use random words because they allow me to create something that I might not have imagined otherwise. I wander around noticing things, and it is this reality that infuses the poem or story even if that poem or story is about outer space. All writing is grounded in some sort of truth, no matter how fantastical it might be. If it isn’t, it generally fails because people do not believe it. You may not believe in hobbits, but everyone knows someone who would rather sit and eat cakes than go on an adventure. We know someone like Bilbo Baggins, and therefore we accept a lot that doesn’t make sense within our own experience.

As the season changes I’m going to be noticing how those changes manifest in Seattle. I want to fully experience whatever the fall has in store for me, and I can’t wait for the rain to start.

Your assignment, should you choose to accept it:
257. How does the change in seasons manifest where you are? Are you noticing as much as you could? Try drawing something or writing about it and see if you notice more than you normally would.

The chirp that refreshes

It’s summer in Seattle, so birds are even more than usual out and about and making their noises. I’ve been watching the crows because the crows have been watching me. They have been yelling at me as I walk one of my usual routes, moving from line to tree so that they can continue to shout at me as I stroll down the street. There must be babies nearby, and they are just making sure I mean them no harm. I don’t. I also noticed the one that often sits outside my window. He makes a sound very like a woodpecker–I am fascinated by his clicking.

On another path I heard a sweet cheeping. Stopping and listening, I finally located a small nest of starlings perched in a vine arbor on the side of a local building. They were small and sweet and I left them alone, but I was happy to have had the experience.

Later that day I was waiting for a bus and saw a male pigeon strutting his stuff to impress the ladies. He puffed out his chest and walked in circles. He fanned his tail feathers. The female pigeons were not at all impressed. I also saw a pigeon with an egg stuck to its underside up on the telephone wire. Apparently sometimes the eggs break and the sticky insides glue the egg to the birds. Poor thing! I wish I could have reached up to help.

I cannot tell you all about birds and their life cycles or recite all of their scientific names. I cannot identify all of their calls, but I have learned a lot by just watching them as they go about their daily lives. Birds remind me to look up and around me. There is a lot going on in the world that has nothing to do with people, and it’s fun to be a part of that. When I hear one of their calls I try to stand still and see if I can spy the bird that made the sound. Birds bring me back to the moment, to the here and now away from electronic screens and in the present. I take a deep breath and thank them.

Your assignment, should you choose to accept it:
249. Be aware of the birds as you go about your daily business. What kinds of birdsong do you hear? What sorts of birds do you see? What times of the day do they make the most noise?

So much to see

Today I’d like to share something Buddhist with you. I’m not going to try to convince you to accept Buddha as your lord and savior—that’s not something we do anyway. I’d like to share the evening prayer that I say as a Buddhist, because I believe it has relevance for many people, whatever their faith traditions (even if your faith tradition is atheism.)

Every evening before I go to bed, this is the prayer I say:

“I beg to urge you everyone
life and death is a great matter
all things pass quickly away.
Awaken! Awaken!
Take heed. Make use of this precious life.”

I like it. I think it’s a good reminder. Did I use my precious life well? Some days we simply drift through the day, not really present. We move down the endless to-do list, but are we really doing things that need to be done? We all have tasks are non-negotiable—bills must be paid, work must happen, dishes must be washed. In other matters, I try to remember the Evening Prayer and use joy as my compass. I want to spend my time with people who give me energy. I want to use my day well.

I also work very hard on being mindful. It’s surprising when you first start to notice it, but even very observant people miss so much of what’s going on around them at any one time. I can be out walking, thinking about the people I need to call, the errands I have to run, and I might miss some of what’s going on right where I am. I want to see the spider web spun between the branches with the droplets of rain. I would be sorry to miss the children walking by with beehive hairdos. I need to see the raccoon ambling by the bus shelter late in the evening.

These are the little pleasures the universe affords us, and once you start paying attention you will notice how much there really is to see. What might you be missing? Isn’t it time to find out?

Your assignment, should you choose to accept it:

228. Take a mindful walk around your neighborhood. Pay attention to what is going on around you. What can you notice about this area that might not have been there before? You can also try this sitting down somewhere safe with your eyes closed. Listen to the sounds around you—what are you hearing? What does that tell you about your environment?