I haven’t been able to get to the cabin for several weeks now: too much work and obligations, which has caused a lot of stress. I forget to breathe, to notice the late afternoon light in the backyard or the stream of geese across the sky. I become single-minded to get everything done, and it feels like I’m going at twice the speed I’m comfortable with, always pushing myself to do more.
In the middle of this, I was part of a meditation group last weekend that took to the outdoors to do something called “aimless walking.” The place was Walden Pond, which, together with its neighbor Sawhill Ponds, would seem to be one of the least natural places around. It’s east of Boulder, on the plains, just a mile or so from my house, so I visit it often. It’s an old gravel mine that has been turned into a nature preserve, all the gravel holes filled with water (from Boulder Creek on its east side) to provide lakes that attract a variety of geese and ducks as well as shorebirds. Over the decades, cottonwoods, willows, grasses, and cattails have grown up around and in the water. It’s become home to coyotes, foxes, hawks, eagles and a lot of migrating birds. Nature has reclaimed this place.
What I call sauntering, aimless walking is something I cultivate. It’s following your heart or curiosity, seeing where it takes you: across the field to a bench overlooking the lake or up a tree or into the woods. It’s like being a kid again, where there’s much more interesting things in the woods or on top of the hill than following a boring old path.
I started out walking on the boardwalk that goes by the lake, which was covered with geese, gulls, mallards, green-winged teals and other birds I couldn’t identify, but all making wonderful ducky sounds—murmurings, squawks, beeps—that formed its own cacophony. I stopped among the tall cattails that border the lake so I could listen to the birds, observe them through the grasses. And then I became captivated by the leaves, the way they swayed in the slight wind, the way the slender stalks are delineated and yet they all move together as the wind stirs them, making a slight rushing sound. I was mesmerized, caught up in their movement, and had no interest in moving on. Gradually, with every breath, I felt myself slowing down, my body and soul becoming aligned with the movement of these cattails
And all the week’s worth of stresses dropped away, just like that. I made a pledge to myself: The next time I get caught up in the whirl of modern life, I’ll find a field of cattails (or patch of clouds or spot of river) and immerse myself. From now on, I’m on cattail time.