I find I have fond affection for the small hemlock under whose wide branches I sought refuge that cool October day. The soft rain having changed its mind turned cold and hard, and I — caught without a hat or jacket — had no choice but to suspend my walk for a while. And so it was I tucked into a dry spot beneath the hemlock at the side of the trail and leaned into her, perhaps for comfort or camaraderie — we will wait this out together. You can form bonds like that, you know, with trees. It comes almost instinctually, as if pulled up from some deep primordial well of remembrance. She was and remains like kin, and I wave when I pass her now. I like to think she nods back.
This morning, I stopped along a narrow trail, enveloped by the sweet scents of honeysuckle and spicebush. Memories of last night’s rain skipped from leaf to leaf, while damselflies danced and a lone catbird sang. From branches sixty feet above, pollen drifted down like snow, illuminated in the first light of day. Oh the bees, their sunrise fête in blooming vines, and mine — oh mine — below.
The storm took so much it’s difficult to consider — gone the familiar, the known path. Feet so sure there was no need to gauge progress. It was how I became present again, how I stepped back in the moment.
It was where I could breathe, let go, release my rooted stride. Slough off thoughts. Embrace the solitude with just a heartbeat and birdsong for company.
But her wide canopy of solace is gone now, and I have been hobbled.
Those sacred spaces of breath and respite are changed.
And so am I.
So I take a different path this morning and it comforts me.
This rabbit will caretake the old path.
This turtle, hopeful, lays its eggs. As does the robin.
Part of this snake is here but its heart has moved forward,
and this spider writes her poems in the spaces left behind.
Essay ©2021, Jen Payne. If you like this essay, be sure to purchase a copy of my book LOOK UP! Musings on the Nature of Mindfulness, available here.
Perhaps it is the same flock,
the one I met years ago,
the one that startled me
here on this shore
that very first walk,
when every rock and curve,
every wind and wave
was unfamiliar still.
Perhaps it knows me now,
this flock of small fidgety birds,
always nervous or impatient,
quickened by anticipation of
the next wave, skittering
to the beat of their sharp trills,
quickly quickly ahead
never near enough for hello again.
Until this morning when I,
in keen focus on a resting shell,
became for a moment
likewise and warmed by the sun,
looked up to find myself surrounded,
heart quickened and nervous
that one false move would startle them,
their gathering at my feet.
Poem and Photo ©2020, Jen Payne. If you like this poem, then you’ll love WAITING OUT THE STORM, a collection of my poems about Cape Cod. Click here to buy the book now.
This morning, I watched the sun rise —
or rather, I watched myself move forward
forward uncontrollably into the sun
The owl went first, the one sitting on a branch across the marsh.
Then the giant maple, her arms outstretched and welcoming.
I seemed to step into the rising myself though I made no movement —
none that I could tell mechanically, despite the velocity of change.
The velocity of one thousand miles each hour, imperceivable —
imperceivable almost, except for the first bird who let out a gasp,
a tweeeeeet! as the she smashed into the first rays of light,
a joyful surprise at how quickly the change snuck up on her.
Or how quickly she snuck up on change — remember?
She, without a lifted feather of flight, raced forward to meet the sun.
The owl and the marsh and the maple went into the light, too,
a face-first dive into the oncoming rays, into the change of day.
How easily we forget this constant movement, this constant change
give up our own velocity and blame it on the sun rising,
roll over in bed to look out the window, tucked under illusions of security
think it rises to spite us, harumph at the inconveniences,
forget to marvel at the wild magic of it all, the whooosh! of day
the velocity of our lives careening without injury forward.
Poem and Photo ©2020, Jen Payne
This morning, not feeling particularly one way or the other, I took a walk in the woods. My Eeyore-gray rain jacket seemed enough, I thought, until the louder rains came. So, I tucked myself under the branches of a sweet, young hemlock who smelled green and damp and seemed not to mind me much. I was less alone than one might imagine, there on the torrential edge of morning — in the air, I could smell the fox lingering and musing to herself on my wet and getting wetter predicament. I think I heard her laugh. Then the storm subsided just enough for me to start again, and so I did, up and towards the simmering pond when there — just around the bend — I spied the bobbing yellow coat of a kindred spirit. He sloshed through a puddle or two, and nodded with a smile that said Hallo as we passed. Hallo I smiled back, good thinking, that umbrella. Yes, yes. Good thinking and good morning.
©2020, Jen Payne
Curled small on the driveway,
only seen for the cruel contrast
black beneath pale pink white skin,
star child, squirrel child no matter
she stayed in the palm of my hand,
nuzzled into the warmth of a thumb
womb, nest, home, heaven
‘til neither of us could bear
that cold, damp morning
that cold, wet pavement
that cold and unforgiving world