A morning walk through all the trails before it gets too hot. Gravel paths crunch and remind me for some reason of previous trips here with the retreat group. The paths lined with mulch are pleasurable too, in a different way–squishing pliantly beneath my foot, quiet compared to the gravel. As I walk along the stream, frogs unseen plonk into the water at my approach–one from high up off a tree branch overhanging! Crows caw and squirrels chatter angrily as they scrabble around and around the bark, chasing each other with squirrel anger at the trespass. As I often do, I ponder how this place exists whether my eyes are witness to it or not. Here is the life of this mushroom: unobserved from beginning to end. I watch a red leaf flutter to the the ground and appreciate that I am the sole witness to this in the entire world. Later in the walk I ponder how life back home has proceeded without my presence all weekend, and so it shall when the day arrives that I exist no more.
It is overcast today. The world is shrouded in mist and muted, a silky blanket of quietude. Not silence. Birds chirp, hidden beasts rustle, mosquitoes buzz. I found the most delicate mushroom, pale and feathery and fragile. I touched it with extreme care, just one finger extended to connect its life with mine.
I love the birth of small routines when away from home for a number of days. The walk from my hotel in Spain to get my daily morning coffee. The propping of my pillows each night in Mexico to sit and read and be able to gaze up and out upon the city spread below our epic windows. This week while at my Quaker yearly meeting in Greensboro, my favorite time of day has become skipping one session after lunch in order to have some time in quiet solitude. I can’t bear to spend the entirety of the day inside when the weather has been unexpectedly glorious–a rare reprieve from the oppressive tyranny of Southern summer is not to be ignored. The campus grounds are lush with green and shade and pleasing simply to gaze upon. I take brief walks down the college pathways–I’ve always enjoyed the atmosphere of campuses, the saturation of expectant knowledge, the vibrancy of the young souls gathered. Even when they are not physically present, I enjoy the aura that permeates.
My habit each day has been to squirrel away two cookies from the lunch buffet, grab a cup of sweet tea, and venture forth to seek a quiet corner to read, write, or stare into space while enjoying the creamy breeze. Today I lucked out with a vacant front porch on one of the residence halls. It is everything Southern: grand columns, a row of rocking chairs, a porch swing upon which I now recline. Yesterday it was full up with those chattering in conversation so I went on past in my preference for solitude. I took a rocking chair on a small plaza in front of the student library. After sitting a minute, I was charmed to discover that I could overhear through the nearby walls a piano practice session. We’ve been pleased to share the campus with a summer gathering of music students. As I later rose to leave, I lingered to eavesdrop a minute outside one of the windows.
The last day of a retreat is always bittersweet as the blissful balm of isolation from the cares of the world threatens its imminent removal. We were granted a bit of magic our final night as a handful of us gathered on a porch with a low fiddler serenading our quiet conversation. The trees hummed along with their life within; a peek of stars up above the leafy roof reminded me of what I miss by being a city-dweller. Long we lingered, reluctant to release the bonds of camaraderie.