(listening time: 6:36 minutes)
Asha waits patiently while I lace up my sneakers and gather everything for our walk: keys, sunglasses, bug hat, binoculars, hand lens, dog treats and leash. On our way out the door, Asha picks up her Frisbee. I tell her to leave it and promise to throw some sticks for her in the woods.
It’s late May. There is green everywhere. The sun is shining. A breeze keeps most of the mayflies at bay. “You are gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous,” I tell the woods after a few minutes of walking along my current favorite loop.
I stop and visit an ash sapling. His* leaves have emerged later than those of maples, birches, beeches. It feels like he has transformed overnight – from compact and curled to four outstretched pairs of pinnately compound leaves (with leaflets along both sides of the central stalk). I am amazed at how much growth is contained within the stubby terminal bud at the top of the sapling.
When we reach the beaver meadow, Asha snacks on grass at the water’s edge while I sit on a fallen conifer watching the tree swallows. The blue-green feathers on their backs as well as the white ones on their fronts become visible in the binoculars. I observe one preening atop a dead tree and discover a head poking out of a hole in another snag. Then I set the binoculars down and follow what looks like a choreographed dance over the water.
Before we continue on our way, I lean over and inhale the fragrant bell-shaped flowers on the blueberry shrub next to my seat.
Further along the trail I greet a red maple. The day I first discovered this loop, she was in full bloom and one of her branches was right at eye level, enabling me to admire her delicate flowers. On our visits, I’ve watched her flowers fade, leaves emerge and winged fruit develop. All in a few weeks.
Next, we look in on an ash who fell in a recent storm. I pull out the hand lens to examine the small flowers on this tree and marvel at how they have continued to develop.
Near the end of our loop, I spot catkins on the trail near a black cherry. Curious whether these slim strands of flowers came from the black cherry, I make a mental note to do some research when I get home. I would also love to learn the name of the bird I heard who sounds like a car alarm.
So many delights and I haven’t mentioned the bluets, Canada-mayflowers, sensitive ferns and all the plants whose names I don’t yet know. Nor Asha’s chipmunk-chasing and puddle-lying.
By the time we return home, I feel deeply nourished and energized by this meandering and visiting with woodland neighbors.
I’m also delighted by my delight in these rendezvous and noticings. That I can recognize an ash sapling and have confirmed my guess that the birds at the beaver meadow are swallows. That words such as ‘pinnately compound’, ‘snag’ and ‘catkin’ have entered my vocabulary.
When I sit down to write, my inner critic Norma starts to intrude on the deliciousness of my walk. “No one cares about your delight,” she says. “There are more important things to write about, especially when innocent Black women and men are being killed by white police officers.”
I put down my pen and stare out the window, pondering Norma’s words.
Perhaps, rather than an attempt to dismiss my experience, they are an invitation to look more closely at delight as well as acknowledge my desire to turn away from what’s hard.
Deep inside, I know I need this delight. I know it’s not a luxury, but something essential to my well-being.
I remember a story I heard many years ago. The details are hazy, but here’s the gist. An activist from the States, working in a Central American community, wonders why the community is taking a day off for a festival.
“There’s so much work to be done. There’s no time for a celebration,” the activist says.
“You’re only here for a short time,” her host responds. “This is our life. The struggle will continue after you’re gone. We need to pace ourselves.”
What I took – and continue to take – from this is the importance of celebrating in the midst of struggle.
Delight isn’t either/or. Either experiencing delight or engaging in activism.
Delight doesn’t mean turning away from what’s hard. Nor avoiding risks.
Today’s delights create a reserve for handling stress and overwhelm. They replenish the well which gets so depleted by the news. They nourish and strengthen my spirit and support risk-taking.
Delight is both/and.
Both soaking up delight in these woods (and elsewhere) and engaging in the work of anti-racism.
And when, inevitably, I stumble or fall down, delight will help me get back up.
* As my relationship with the woods deepens and as I read botanist Robin Wall Kimmerer who writes about the grammar of animacy, it feels disrespectful to refer to trees, plants, birds, animals and other living beings as ‘it’. English doesn’t have a pronoun that honors the beingness of nature, so I’m experimenting with those we use for humans.
photo credit: Donald Cameron