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Posts Tagged ‘attention’

red tulips public garden boston

 

A spring night is a power that sweeps through the crowded sheaves of blooming tulips and pours into your heart like a river.

—Anthony Doerr, Four Seasons in Rome

I took a solo walk through the Public Garden the other night, after a long, full day that included a work event and an impromptu dinner afterward with a friend.

We tucked into a corner booth at one of our favorite restaurants, over bowls of creamy, savory soup and glasses of red wine. The evening was blue and gold, with a brisk west wind. I had forgotten my jacket that morning and I was almost cold.

After dinner, I walked through the Garden alone, to see if there were any tulips left. (The photo above is from a couple of weeks ago; the tulip season is vivid and glorious here, but short.) A few bright blooms still lingered on their stalks, and I snapped a photo in the gathering dusk. But what caught my attention was the sunset light, reflected in the water.

sunset sky boston public garden

I thought of the line from Doerr’s memoir, above, written as he tried to savor the gorgeous, fleeting beauty that is spring in Rome. Spring in Boston – capricious, tricksy, full of sudden cool breezes and unexpected bursts of color – is a surprise and an enchantment every year. I’ve lived through five New England winters now and am on my fifth spring, and I am still in love, bewitched, utterly captivated by the new life around every corner.

This is a packed time of year, for me and for nearly everyone I know. Harvard’s Commencement approaches (next week); work deadlines loom. Summer, with all its pleasures and its changes from the usual routine, is on the horizon, but it’s not quite here yet.

tulips-public-garden

I am walking through the middle of all this beauty, thinking about plans and to-do lists and so many meetings. I am busy and tired and a little stressed, but I want to stay awake. I don’t want to miss it. Any of it.

I am determined to keep paying attention, to let the power of these spring nights – and days – sweep through the tulips and blooming trees, and pour into my heart like a river.

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red journal chai darwins

A good journal entry – like a good song, or sketch, or photograph – ought to break up the habitual and lift away the film that forms over the eye, the finger, the tongue, the heart. A good journal entry ought to be a love letter to the world.

—Anthony Doerr, Four Seasons in Rome

As a longtime journaler (I have boxes of old journals stowed away in a closet, and a stack of more recent ones teetering on a bookshelf), this passage from Doerr’s lovely memoir positively made my heart sing.

Happy Friday, friends. Hope you have a lovely weekend.

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budding tree green blue sky

After what felt like the longest winter ever, the piles of dirty snow have (finally) disappeared. We’ve had quite a few brisk, chilly days and some damp, depressing gray ones, and a couple of unexpected torrential downpours. But spring is – finally! – here in Boston for real.

The trees are budding, clothed in red and white and even electric green. Last week, I was delighted to see the tulip magnolia trees burst into bloom. (I’d been watching a few of them for weeks, waiting for their lipstick-pink buds to open and reveal creamy petals.)

tulip magnolia tree

The crocuses and snowdrops are nearly done. The daffodils and the tiny blue scilla (an awful name for a lovely flower) are out in full force. I spotted a few pink hyacinth in a raised bed on Garden Street the other day. And soon, the flowerbeds in the Public Garden downtown will be a riot of tulips – my favorite. (A friend sent me a photo of the still-green buds this week, with the message, “Tulips are close to popping!”)

This is my third spring working in Cambridge, the beginning of my third year in this job, this building, this neighborhood. By now, I know not only where to find the best chai latte in Harvard Square (Darwin’s) or where to go for a French dip (Grendel’s Den), but where to find the first, faint, shy signs of spring.

I’ve built up a store of knowledge through observation on my frequent walks. And when the snow started to melt – or, let’s be honest, even before – I was watching for the crocuses to poke up through the earth. I knew exactly where to look: a triangular flowerbed in the yard of a house with a purple door. My vigilance was rewarded – those purple blooms made my day when they finally appeared.

purple crocuses flowers spring

There’s something lovely and gratifying about this ritual – a small, quiet reward of my constant attempts to pay attention to my everyday life. This time of year, you can almost see the trees budding, watch the leaves uncurling, measure the progress of a rising daffodil stem from day to day. Or – just as often – a tree or shrub will lie dormant for months, then burst into bloom overnight. In both cases, the joy is deeper, the colors brighter, if you know where to look.

red tulips flowerbed

I read a line from John O’Donohue years ago that always comes to mind in the spring: “beauty likes neglected places.” The damp earth under still-bare trees, untended corners of vacant lots – these places are splashed with new life and color, just as much as the carefully cultivated flowerbeds. Forsythia bushes are spraying their fountains of gold all over the neighborhood, seemingly out of nowhere. And even the dandelions are adding their cheerful note to spring’s symphony.

We’re not quite in the full glory of spring just yet – lots of branches are still bare, and the nights still have a nip in them. But I am savoring every bud and leaf and scrap of color. I’m giving thanks for every flower, like Mary Lennox in The Secret Garden. And I am watching – always watching – for more signs of spring.

How is spring showing up where you live?

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This winter, I decided my one little word for 2014 would be light.

coronado ca sunset

I did pretty well at chasing it for a couple of months, especially in the winter when looking for the light becomes a survival technique. We chased it all the way to San Diego in March, and then I followed it to Texas in late April.

austin mural waterloo records

And then spring came, and though we had some gray days in late May and early June, it has been a summer flooded with light – so much so that I haven’t paid it much attention.

But when I stop to look, the light is everywhere.

It’s in the cloud-streaked blue sky as I walk to work.

blue sky cambridge

It streams in through the big picture window in my temporary office.

new office desk computer

It greets me when I walk down to our beach.

sunset beach boston ma

And though it hid from us for a while, it eventually blazed out in glory during our vacation in PEI.

sunset blue mussel cafe pei

We’re headed toward the turning of the year: already the mornings feel a little brisker, the nights a little cooler. The quality of the light will soon shift from summer’s mellow golden to autumn’s crisp, lucid clarity.

I love autumn in the Northeast with a passion, but I also want to savor these last, gorgeous golden days, and watch the transition day by day. I don’t want to miss it. I want to be awake, to pay attention. I want to keep looking for the light.

If you’re following one little word this year, how’s it going? Do you get off track sometimes and then come back, like me?

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Oct 2013 001

My work is loving the world.
Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird —
equal seekers of sweetness.
Here the quickening yeast; there the blue plums.
Here the clam deep in the speckled sand.

I have never met Mary Oliver, but I consider her one of my teachers.

A published poet since 1963, Oliver has written hundreds, probably thousands, of poems during her lifetime, producing more than 25 books of poetry and three books of nonfiction to date. She writes about early morning walks in the woods or along the shoreline; finding the footprints of animals in the forest or near a lake; the tension between the fleeting beauty of the natural world and its undertones of violence, death and decay. She harbors a deep love for the world we inhabit, and a deep sadness for the ways humans mar or destroy the quiet, lonely places where animals and plants live.

I doubt Oliver ever cared much for clothes and fashion, but if she did, she gave up that particular passion long ago. She has learned what is worth caring about, and what she can easily ignore:

Are my boots old? Is my coat torn?
Am I no longer young, and still not half-perfect? Let me
keep my mind on what matters,
which is my work,

which is mostly standing still and learning to be
astonished.

This is what I need to learn, amid my distracted and often scattered life, amid my commute and my day job, amid the relentless pull of social media and relationships online and offline. I need to learn to pause, on my front porch or in the park or even on the subway platform, and pay attention to the
natural world, to the details that astonish.

I’m over at TRIAD magazine again today, sharing my thoughts on Oliver’s poetry. Please click over there to read the rest of my essay.

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cambridge ma forsythia yellow spring

Try to Praise the Mutilated World

Try to praise the mutilated world.
Remember June’s long days,
and wild strawberries, drops of wine, the dew.
The nettles that methodically overgrow
the abandoned homesteads of exiles.
You must praise the mutilated world.
You watched the stylish yachts and ships;
one of them had a long trip ahead of it,
while salty oblivion awaited others.
You’ve seen the refugees heading nowhere,
you’ve heard the executioners sing joyfully.
You should praise the mutilated world.
Remember the moments when we were together
in a white room and the curtain fluttered.
Return in thought to the concert where music flared.
You gathered acorns in the park in autumn
and leaves eddied over the earth’s scars.
Praise the mutilated world
and the grey feather a thrush lost,
and the gentle light that strays and vanishes
and returns.
Adam Zagajewski

My friend Kari posted this poem last week, and that night, I came across it in the last section of Caroline Kennedy’s lovely poetry anthology She Walks in Beauty. Then it showed up in Shelf Awareness on Friday, as all of Boston waited with bated breath for the police to catch the second bombing suspect. I have been thinking about it ever since, as I move through this world we live in, so beautiful and yet so broken.

Life is, mostly, back to “business as usual” in Boston. This is a tough town, as the new city motto – Boston Strong – indicates. It will take more than a bombing to put it off-kilter for long. But alongside the displays of strength and courage, the grief lingers.

On Monday afternoon, I gathered with colleagues in the small garden next to our building for a moment of silence, as many others across the city did the same. Our dean read the names of the fallen, and then we all stood still and silent as the church bells began to ring. Above us, the sun skittered in and out of the clouds as we stood huddled in our coats. The weight of our grief was palpable. And yet I felt profoundly grateful to be there, sharing this moment with my community.

Our world is beautiful, and it is broken. We cannot always prevent or heal the brokenness, but I believe we can find solace in praise.

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boston public garden pink tulips

The Tables Turned (An Evening Scene on the Same Subject)

(A response to “Expostulation and Reply.”)

Up! up! my Friend, and quit your books;
Or surely you’ll grow double:
Up! up! my Friend, and clear your looks;
Why all this toil and trouble?

The sun, above the mountain’s head,
A freshening lustre mellow
Through all the long green fields has spread,
His first sweet evening yellow.

Books! ’tis a dull and endless strife:
Come, hear the woodland linnet,
How sweet his music! on my life,
There’s more of wisdom in it.

And hark! how blithe the throstle sings!
He, too, is no mean preacher:
Come forth into the light of things,
Let Nature be your teacher.

She has a world of ready wealth,
Our minds and hearts to bless—
Spontaneous wisdom breathed by health,
Truth breathed by cheerfulness.

One impulse from a vernal wood
May teach you more of man,
Of moral evil and of good,
Than all the sages can.

Sweet is the lore which Nature brings;
Our meddling intellect
Mis-shapes the beauteous forms of things:–
We murder to dissect.

Enough of Science and of Art;
Close up those barren leaves;
Come forth, and bring with you a heart
That watches and receives.

uni parks

This is my favorite Wordsworth poem, especially at this time of year, when the budding trees and plants are begging for “a heart that watches and receives.” I love books, probably more than the next person, but I believe there is a time to set them aside and soak up the loveliness and wisdom of nature. (Though it’s turned chilly again in Boston, and I am hoping for more warm weather soon.)

Also, this poem fits perfectly with my word for the yearattention.

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