Chester and I set out on the trail this morning, a day that is cold enough for a sweatshirt, but not scarf or gloves. The December California sun is bright, yet low in the sky. It’s a beacon, a headlamp I walk toward with sure strides even though its light blinds.
Go toward the light, I say aloud and giggle because I’m so serious and so kidding at the same time. I’ve been praying hard – for my students, so many of whom write so eloquently about being sad or lost; for my friends who’ve lost loved ones and face a new kind of emptiness this season; and for those strangers I might touch with my writing or teaching in ways I won’t ever know.
Maybe it’s the light, or the drawing near end of the year, but I feel a taunting melancholy and longing for something I can’t quite put my finger on. I wonder how to hold the fullness of this day and season, how to share this expansive blue, the thrilling sound of twittering bushtits hidden in the scrub oaks that raise a grand chorus as we pass. What am I supposed to do with all this beauty I ask the sky.
Chester thinks I’m speaking to him, turns his head, cocks his ears, then crashes through the sage to chase a roadrunner. Right, I think. You’re simply one anonymous creature among the myriad in the canyon today.There’s nothing to do but be here.
The trail winds past a row of California pepper trees with weeping branches laden with reddish pink Christmas berries. As I walk past the grove, a little too close, one slender green wispy branch slides its gentle finger from my cheek to my neck and I feel I’ve been caressed as if by a mother, touched by nature as if to say what am I supposed to do with all this beauty here? Goosebumps rise on my arms.
I laugh again, accept the touch, accept the sky, the birdsong, the quiet crunch of loose dried mud under my shoes and Chester’s soft nudge against my thigh when I call him toward the homeward path.
Isn’t this what the season is about: not only giving gifts, but openly receiving? I think, if we are attentive, we can fill the quiet spaces with appreciation and acknowledgement of all the gifts we’ve experienced this year. The unexpected visit. Daisies left on the front porch. Goulash dinner and homemade bread for no reason other than longtime friendship. Tilt your head skyward and be attentive. You might feel the caress of gratitude from others upon our cheek at the most unexpected moment.