I even heard roosters

I spent this weekend out of town at a dance retreat in the middle of the woods with some friends. It was just what I needed, and only my second time out on the Olympic peninsula.

The house we stayed in was near Lake Cushman and the Hood Canal. The area surprised me. We drove down to the lake, and the part of it that I could see was surrounded by evergreens, many of them coming right up to the water. It looked wild and undeveloped, even though I’m told this particular lake is an artificial reservoir. My friends said that most of Washington’s mountain lakes are this way. It was stunning.

The house we stayed in was near a swampy pond, and I saw several great blue herons out on the water. Other wildlife came much closer to the house. Families of raccoons came up to our deck and we fed them graham crackers through the sliding window. I’ve never seen them so closely before. I particularly liked their little black feet, but I was very careful not to get too close to their paws as I distributed the treats. Apparently they cannot retract their claws.

We were also visited by chipmunks and many different varieties of birds. One particularly glorious specimen was a relative of the blue jay. I really enjoyed the chance to see the wildlife, as I live in a brick apartment building surrounded by sidewalks. I like that, too, but there’s nothing like the sound of a herd of trees in the breeze. I use the word herd consciously, as I experience the trees as joyful living beings.

Of course, I also loved the dancing. Our small group of friends took the time to practice steps we wanted to improve, and to enjoy the music. Best of all, we had fun amongst ourselves. We’ve all met on the dance floor, and it was great to laugh, play cards, and find out how much more we all had in common than two-step and the Boot Scoot Boogie. I returned from Labor Day weekend feeling I’d truly taken a break from my daily grind, and that’s what the holiday is all about.

Your assignment, should you choose to accept it:

174. When was the last time you had a real change of scenery? If you’re a city mouse, plan a day trip out into the country. If you’re a country mouse, brave the wilds of the urban jungle. How was it?

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Your red carpet is waiting

Last night I went to square dancing class. It’s held in a church, and I think that’s highly appropriate. I think dance is a sacred activity. Most things are. I was waiting outside of the building to enter, and I had time to contemplate my surroundings. I love the trees there, and need to find out what kind they are. I’d like to be able to call them by name. They have wide canopies with thick, twining branches. A new crop of red leaves has appeared, casting yellow dust with red stems. It looked like confetti, or tiny scraps of scarlet and lemon lace strewn across the pavement.

Mother Nature threw a parade in the neighborhood, and I’m seeing the aftermath. I celebrate with her, because it looks like it was some party. The return of spring is certainly something to cheer about. It’s not that Seattle is a frozen wasteland during the winter—far from it. Things remain green here, and the cold is present but not punitive. The streets sparkle with rain. Spring brings back the leaves, and there are more birds about. Squirrels frolic, and we start to get some daylight back into the sky. The little changes add up to a subtle but perceptible difference.

I love these impromptu carpets that nature throws down. In the fall we have the leaves; in the forest we have the pine needles and twigs. Always we have the rain. Right now we’ve also got a lot of petals down from cherry trees and other flowering shrubs. I think that the parade is for us all, and we should be appreciative of all the pretty blossoms that are being thrown in our path. I’m going to use this excuse to think back on all the accomplishments I’ve done this year. It’s so easy to focus on what is not yet finished—I’m still job hunting, apartment hunting and packing boxes. I’m also regularly exercising, making a living, and making lots of friends. I’ve worked hard this year, and I’m going to enjoy the petals in my path. The birds are singing, and the sun has scattered fluffy white clouds against the sky. That’s my cue to go out walking. See you later!

Your assignment, should you choose to accept it:

100. Why is Mother Nature throwing you a parade? Celebrate what you’ve achieved so far this year, and go for a walk amongst the flowers.

Down from the trees

This is a warning. You may want to look away now. I may lapse into a heartwarming story, something I generally don’t approve of. This time I just can’t help it. I was reading the Seattle Post Intelligencer, and there was an article on a man who is being evicted from his tree house. This is his hand-built, custom-crafted tree house, which is on a public lot. The powers that be feel it’s a hazard.

Here comes the heartwarming part. He’s lived there for quite a while now, and the neighborhood likes him. Hearing of the eviction, they took up a collection to buy him an RV of his very own. When the people who owned the RV came to deliver the purchase, they saw what was going on and changed the price to one penny.

Why am I telling you this? I guess the story really struck me today because of all the sad news I’ve been reading. I’m still job hunting, and it gets dispiriting. It’s easy to notice all the reports of people who don’t care, of employers who fire their permanent help to hire temps. It’s easy to get bogged down in distressing details. I’m happy to see a story about people helping someone just because they can, because they feel it’s the right thing to do. I like knowing that someone out there cares for their fellow man. I want to spread the word.

I don’t want to pay attention to the sad stories. There are so many stories out there, and it’s too easy to focus on the ones that agree with whatever mood arises in each moment. Once I notice these disgruntled accounts, it’s easy to see them as proof to support my bad mood. I believe this also works backwards. I believe that if I focus on the happy stories, my mood will follow my attention into joy. That’s why I’m spreading the word about Squirrelman, the nickname of the man with the tree house. I want us all to get closer to joy. Pass it on.

Your assignment, should you choose to accept it:

74. Seek out a happy story in the news or elsewhere, and tell it to someone else. How did it feel to share something cheerful? Was it a different feeling than you get when telling sad stories?

I love the Lorax, too

My friend Trevor has a bumper sticker on his car that says “tree-hugging dirt worshipper.” I am right there in the mud with him, giving praise to the ground I walk on, the soil that supports us all. I praise the trees, too, telling them how lovely they are as I walk to work. My leafy friends are amazing. I feel so lucky to be surrounded by their trunks and branches, their canopies of green. The hedges across the street from me harbor flocks of tiny birds, their bodies dotting the branches like living fruit. The leaves purify our air. I would love to live amidst a forest, embraced by the gentle energy of the pines and their amazing scent. Instead I live amongst the scattered magnolias and Japanese maples. This has its own charms.

Most of Seattle’s neighborhoods are not densely forested, so each tree stands out as a piece of sculpture. The deciduous ones are particularly stunning during the winter, their bare branches snaking towards the sky in endless skeletal patterns. Some have chubby limbs, twisted into intricate swirls. Others are wispy, straightforward, standing like upturned brooms against the sky. In contrast to these proud sentinels, the espaliered fruit trees hug the buildings like shy girls at a dance. I love them all.

Their shadows are also artwork. As I walked to my meeting last night I noticed the intricate traceries which mark the sidewalks. These shadows look like iron grillwork, moving across the street with the sun. Their patterns project onto the sides of buildings, a kinetic artwork that is always changing with the moment. I breathe in the clean scent as I walk through them, or perhaps that’s a cloud of fabric softener from a nearby dryer vent. No matter—I am content. It recalls the smell of pine needles, the fragrance of damp leaves. Sometimes I even smell the little flowers which remain on many trees during the winter here. I feel so lucky to be in Seattle, a little piece of paradise in the evergreen state. A tree is tapping on my window, beckoning me outside. See you later!

Your assignment, should you choose to accept it:

27. Go worship a tree wherever you are. Give it a nice long hug, brushing the snow off first if necessary. Can you feel the tree hugging you back?