soaking it up

I sit in the garden and watch the robins taking turns on the nest in the birch tree. The nest is perched in a crotch of branches high above my patio. It doesn’t look very secure, but I’ve watched it hold tight when its windy. One robin swoops to the branch and the other plunges away. A few minutes later they switch. And switch again.

I’ve been practicing yoga. Not every day, but most days. I love how it helps me cultivate stillness. Stillness within myself. My body, but also my mind. Being fully present I notice things like the robins.

Clematis flowers blooming in my garden

Last month I taught a botanical watercolor class at my library. I showed my students how before I ever pick up a pencil or a brush I study my subject, spend time observing and truly seeing the plant or flower or seed or leaf in front of me. It’s one of my favorite things about painting, this communion with pieces of nature. The stillness. The focused attention. I told my students that even if they aren’t going to paint all of the tiny details it’s important to know they’re there.

Rust and yellow violas painted with watercolor by Anne Butera

When we’re rushing or anxious or distracted it’s easy to overlook the magic around us. When we slow down, take a deep breath and open our eyes, it’s hard to miss.

A funny tomato growing in my garden

The practice of writing Joy Lists helps me remember what I’ve paid attention to, but I want to shift my focus so I’m always paying attention. Always open to magic.

Often we find ourselves carrying out our tasks on a sort of autopilot. When I was going to graduate school I’d tune out during my hour-long drive, often getting to campus without remembering the trip, not remembering seeing my favorite red barn. Not remembering what was blooming in the garden I liked. Not remembering if there were any customers in the cute little cafe I sometimes fantasized about visiting. When I’m distracted I can read page after page of a book and not take in a single word.

It’s not how I want to live my life.

I want to be slow. I want to be deliberate. I want to soak it all in.

The Above and Beyond Roses in my Garden are Irresistible to Japanese Beetles

Yes, that means that sometimes I notice something I wish I hadn’t. This summer I’ve been averting my eyes from my roses, my beloved roses, because I don’t want to see the Japanese beetles. They’re always there. I don’t use any pesticides in my garden. The only organic solution I know is to drown them. I hate doing it, and so sometimes I pretend I don’t see them, but that means I don’t see my roses, either.

Last weekend I read Anne Lamott’s book Almost Everything, Notes on Hope. It’s a quick read and I think I need to read it a second time, not because I wasn’t paying attention the first time, but to soak up the words:

“And there is always nature, her royal self, who offers herself both as a light show and as bread to be eaten. We hang with her as much as possible, because nature really knows how to do it when she is not being mercurial and destroying entire regions. We do get a taste of the spheres in birdsong, eclipses, the surf, tangerines. In the dark, as we see the stars. In the aftermath of the devastating fire, the sun rose red.

To pay close attention to and mostly accept your life, inside and out and around your body, is to be halfway home…”

Pay close attention.

Mary Oliver’s instructions for living a life: “Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.”

My mouse melon vine is flowering. It's flowers are tinier than the nail on my pinkie

Checking on my mouse melon plants I was astonished to see them flowering teeny tiny yellow flowers. The care and patience of the robins astonished me. The red admiral butterfly zooming around my flowers and landing on my shirt astonished me. Every day when I slow down and truly pay attention I can’t help but be astonished. Again and again and again and again.

A self-seeded viola flower showed up in my pot of lavender

What about you? What are you noticing? What’s showing up on your Joy Lists? What’s astonishing you?