Landscape and Place Rough Beauty Spring

Emergence: Some Thoughts on Remembering Joy

I have been gone a long time, holding my breath. Here is my first blog back in a year:

Clumps of wet snow clog the landscape. Limbs of aspens, not yet fully leafed, bend over with the weight. June 1st and the world outside my window is heavy with snow.

After one of the driest winters I can remember, I welcome this late winter with open arms, luxuriating in wetness, grateful for this small reprieve.

Nearly every day for the last six months has been a red flag day (warm temperatures, low humidity, strong winds). In our second straight La Nina year, the entire Front Range of Colorado has been raked by wind and warm weather. Most disastrously, we’ve had very little precipitation. “Fire weather” warnings are routine now, as is the reflex to cringe when the wind picks up and I imagine the disaster of ignition in such conditions.

It happened on December 30th last year when the Marshall Fire exploded south of Boulder and ravaged over a thousand suburban homes, displacing nearly 3000 people. The summer fire season is now a year-round fire season and it’s not normal.

But nothing seems normal anymore, does it? As if the climate crisis isn’t enough, each day is filled with gut-wrenching stories reflecting a cracked and broken world—all piled on top of the bone-weariness of the pandemic, now in its 3rd year. It’s hard to know how to respond, when so much seems to be catastrophically wrong.

Add to this a number of personal disasters on the home front in recent months—everything from an unhappy diagnosis for River and the illness of a beloved family member to COVID and the loss of another dear one. Bundled together, these difficulties have hit like a series of gut punches.

Over the last few years, I realize that I have developed a habit of numbing my despair: with a blissful combination of baking and drag queen shows, with stuffing my days so full of work that I can only rush to complete tasks instead of feel.

I am certain I am not alone. We are all overwrought and coping the best way we can.

But this morning, the unexpected weather has me breathing and letting my emotional life come out of hiding. There’s relief, for the abatement of fire weather, then joy for the thirsty earth.

So, I load my dog into the car and drive to the nearby mountain town of Nederland. As River meanders down path, I listen to Boulder Creek, swollen with snow melt, swirling and rushing by. Water rains from aspens and spruce, pattering the muddy earth and, beneath my feet, grass bends with wetness. The sound of water is everywhere. It gurgles and oozes, it trickles and seeps, it splashes. I luxuriate in its wetness. Then I give thanks for life-giving water. As I walk, my boots slip and squinch, the air dampens my skin and hair. For this moment I feel centered in the world and I am content. Blissful even.

Listen, I’m no joy junkie. I must remind myself constantly that delight is the better path and joy–that feeling that explodes from the deep body or bubbles forth as sparkling as the first melting blue-sky day in spring–requires work. I must remember to choose it.

Walking helps. Putting my feet on the path I’ve worn through the woods near my house or digging my fingers into the garden. In the summer I slip into the hammock beneath the big ponderosa out back and watch the clouds. All these moments immerse me in the wild world. In return the wild world gives back. Touching wildness, I touch on a more authentic me—someone whose exuberance and wild enthusiasm is as big as the night sky. Someone who reaches for joy.

Last week, I saw a fledgling siskin mewing and beating its wings on my railing. Another unexpected gift; babies typically come much later in the season, but the siskins appear to be at it early this year, time enough to produce two broods. I love the rumpled roundness of baby birds and their insistent calling. Suddenly, its parent descends to put seed in the fledgling’s mouth.

The world goes on. There are babies in spring and the startling return of snow in a dry year. There is a rough beauty to the world. Renewal and hope. I must remind myself of it every single day.

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