There comes a point in early summer where everything grows quiet. I notice the shift not quite consciously, as it remains just under the surface for a few weeks, until it grows into enough of a nag that I find myself wondering “What’s different?”. As I walk trails that I visit frequently, I find my attention darting around, as if I am looking for something, but am met only with external stillness. At some point, it dawns on me that Spring is over, and we have entered the maturity of Summer. A season that has found its feet, where getting on with the business of life becomes the focus. Youth is over and the seedlings have grown stout, flowers are beginning to bear fruit and the fledglings have taken flight. Summer lacks the racousness of Spring, where everything is twitterpated and flirty and hummanah hummanah come here baby. Life reaches its apex, and from such great heights past and future are revealed. It is an uncomfortable paradox that just as the sun reaches its zenith, all shadows are illuminated. Contained within the arc of life at its peak, is also the promise of its inevitable end.
If I were to place myself on the seasonal wheel, I would land smack dab on this point of the longest day. The approach of my 40th birthday this year has come with a spectre that enjoys jumping out at me from corners and sneaking up behind me when I’m unawares. (My birthday, by the way, is not until November, so tuck those wishes back in your pocket. Unless you would like to use one to make time slow down, and then, by all means…). Not so much a mid-life crisis, but I would definitely say I’m in a mid-life reckoning. I totally get why some people go out and buy that sports car. I think all of us buy into, in whatever small or big way, that sense that our life is coming, but has yet to arrive. That we still have time for it to start. That someday is around a corner somewhere. As I approach my own zenith, I find panic striking suddenly, in short lightning bursts, because something will remind me that this is it. Not only is someday something I can’t wait for, I am a little bit terrified that it has already passed. While I was wandering around inside of myself, half of my life has gone by. It’s not new at all, this sense that I want to live life to the fullest, to be as present as possible. It’s just that the stakes seem higher now, because I don’t have as much time to do it. Making a choice to check out is like deciding whether or not to spend my last 5 dollars on a mocha. I might have instant gratification, but it will be short lived.
I used to find this stillness, this sense of pregnant pause, almost unbearable. In the city it would come on as a sense of ennui, or gloom, which seemed so inappropriate…it’s Summer! Shouldn’t I be feeling some other way? I would chalk it up to foggy coastal Junes. Except it becomes even starker when I am in the golden rolling hills and scorching heat of my Northern California heartland. As I have learned to not get jumpy, and instead settle down with it all, beauty, poignancy and a little bit of grief emerge.
These past few years, I have been blessed to hold this experience as I walk along the sandstone, the bed of my favorite stretch of Dry Creek. It’s beauty is humble, and hard to see, but once in view I find it profound. As a place rarely visited by humans, the trace of animal activities are everywhere, the most noticeable being that of Turkey Vultures. I stumble across their pellets of spit up bones and fur and feel like a forty-niner picking up a golden nugget. I find the broken egg shells of California Quail, the dropped feather of a Great Blue Heron, the scat and tracks of a raccoon, and I find my way into the Universe like John Muir did in the forests.
The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness. J. Muir, 1938.
Great Blue Heron feather, Quail egg, Vulture or Heron pellet made up entirely of Crawdad. You get a line and I’ll get a pole, honey.
Raccoon toes and brown algae.
Pay attention to poop. Becoming familiar with animal scat will make you a nature detective extraordinaire. I wasn’t totally sure if the pellets I was finding were from owls, vultures or herons. The giant bird poop featured above tells me that it was probably a Great Blue Heron.
Oh my gawd! Why is she showing us a picture of THAT! Ewwwww! *Nervous adolescent giggle*. BECAUSE people, if you want to track animals, and I think you should because it’s awesome, then being able to identify scat will become a prized skill. Also, it’s fun to get giddy over poop. This is from a raccoon. Can you tell what it’s been eating? Poking the little logs with a stick revealed that it was made up almost entirely of Manzanita berries. I didn’t know that raccoons ate those…did you? Now you do.
Birth and death. Growth and decay. Food and shit. Life.
As I walk I marvel at the geology, earth history written in the stones. The life cycle of the creek is re-enacted in slow motion, as before my eyes I see the way the sand stone hardened and formed around larger rocks of a different substance. Across the water I see the striations in the boulders and realize the fast blink of my life. I hear the song contained within the earth and it is deep and low, infrasonic, slow. I am humbled. I am grateful.
In the early morning I rest in a spot where the year before I made a friend. I wonder about her, wonder where she is now.
I stand up to stretch, hands up to the sky, reaching to earth, updog, downdog. I see something on the rocks in front of me. My question is answered.
The coloring on the still visible scales tells me this was a kingsnake. Perhaps my friend, perhaps one of her relations. Fern and I sit with the bones, gently wiggling the vertebrae, wondering and hushed. We go on a treasure hunt, finding more remains here and there, compiling them together with found richness.
I like these bones and am tempted to bring them home. But lately I have been more inclined to leave the magic where I find it. I don’t need any more reminders of my worth. So I let the bones rest where they belong, slowly seeping their incarnation back into the stones. We take seashells off the beach, antlers out of the woods, crystals out of the earth, and then we wonder why natural places feel so vulnerable and unprotected. Maybe it would make a difference, maybe not. But still…I left them there.
Not everything is heat and skeletons. The Acorn Woodpeckers chuckle like squeaky toys, the Quail startle the daylights out of us as they break the silent grass with worried wings, tiny babies flapping behind them. Hawks and vultures circle overhead, swifts swoop down to drink from the water, a hummingbird follows me around like there is a nectar filled flower 2 feet above my head. Minnows. Turtles. Frogs that shriek when you walk by and belly flop into the algae.
Delight at shrieking frogs.
I cursed myself on that last post, daring to say that I thought we were in that “it gets easier” stage. I laughed with Anne’s comment that she doesn’t know if “easier” exists and sometimes it’s more like “one hour at a time”. Indeed. My daughter was a beast on this trip, with tantrums regressing back 6 months or so. Travelling and being uprooted is hard for a little one, bringing lots of insecurity for a consistency loving Virgo. Our time spent waterside, whether creek or lake, was the best of times.
Hey, hey, I’m from the Lower Haight, gettin’ all up in your country, yo.
Everywhere there was Klamath Weed. Known to most as St. John’s Wort, I’ve always known this friend by her local nominer. There was also Pennyroyal, Coyote Mint, Mimulus, Mallow. I spent my last precious morning at my favorite spot, snipping thankfully the yellow heads of the Klamath Weed, nestling them into a jar with olive oil, so that I can pour on and rub in some of that solstice sun when the clouds hang heavy in San Francisco.
Whatever you are doing today, in the big picture and in the small, I hope you are able to take a moment to bask in the Midsummer Sun. Happy Solstice!