Waking before dawn with today’s to-do’s scrolling through my mind, I felt choked up just brewing a cup of tea – compile tax info, update Dad’s expenses, call the accountant, brush the dog, vacuum up the dog hair, do the laundry, work a closing shift at the bookstore, and oh yes, how’s the re-write of that novel I’ve been working on for years going….
I drank my tea, trying to swallow the anxiety spawned by the news and to-do’s along with it. Then Sandy and I headed out for our walk. He led me up the trail at sunrise, his fur ruffling in the chill breeze, his too-small-for-his-body ears bouncing with each step. A flock of Mountain Bluebirds, wintering in the junipers, took to the sky as we passed, the incredible color of their feathers flashing.
The Sandia Mountains tower 5,000 feet above our mile-high home, and we walk in their shadow. The banded uppermost layer is 300 million-year-old Madera Limestone, deposited in an ancient sea where crinoids and brachiopods and bryozoans flourished (creatures that still inhabit our oceans today, though in different forms). But the range is dominated by the Sandia Granite, a 1.4 billion-year-old formation (yes, billion!). Its reddish pink orthoclase feldspar crystals make the mountains glow, gold shading to deep pink, as the sun angle lowers late in the day, giving the range its nickname – the Watermelon Mountains.
The views – of a billion years of time and thousands of feet of displacement on the faults that form the Rio Grande Valley – remind me to lighten up; my whole lifetime is less than a snap of the fingers in the story of this landscape. My ashes will one day be scattered in the arroyo beside my house, and I will be carried to the river and beyond. My adobe house will melt back into the earth, leaving hardly a trace for whoever or whatever inhabits this space down the track of geologic time.
Politics won’t matter. Money won’t matter. The stuff by which we define success, or failure, won’t matter. I don’t have to take life, and myself, so seriously. I’m free to explore and take chances. I can stand up for what matters to me, without thinking that one way or the other it’s the end of the world. Geologic time proves to me it won’t be.
When I remember to live like that, in addition to having the courage to try, whether I succeed or fail, there’s also space to savor the finger snaps of my own lifetime – a walk with my beloved dog, making tracks in fresh snow, Sirius sparkling in a black velvet sky, Wynton Marsalis playing Where or When, a hawk soaring overhead, reading Mary Oliver’s Wild Geese, and the glint of a mountain moonrise. In those moments, my heart fills with gratitude – it feels physical, like my heart is actually swelling in my chest. Have you ever felt it?
I can’t imagine it being expressed any better than Oliver Sacks did in one of his last essays, My Own Life, “Above all, I have been a sentient being, a thinking animal, on this beautiful planet, and that in itself has been an enormous privilege and adventure.”