Wednesday, January 20, 2010


In listening to the symphony play Arvo Part’s Cantus in Memorium over the weekend, I was struck by several ideas.

First, silence is programmed into the score as part of the music. As in nature, silence is not absence, but presence. It is not waiting for something to happen, it is already happening, because we are waiting in the meadows, in the woods, and on top of North Dome, listening.

Second, when we come to nature, we often enter with our moods, and this colors what we hear. We should use the time we spend traveling to places like Yosemite to prepare to listen to nature’s different sounds.

Third, bells have a major voice in the piece. Part was a member of the Russian Orthodox Church where bells have a rich history of sounding over the mountains and countryside calling people to something significant. When the last bell rings in Part’s Cantus, after the strings descend through dissonance to resonate together, it’s like the sky suddenly clearing after the turbulence of a storm.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010


It’s zero degrees out this morning. Zero. As if there was no temperature outside, and no life. There are no animals or birds or wind. Nothing is moving. The air is stiff. I breathe slow, not wanting to disturb the stillness, or the presence of thought and heart that is forming.

The heavy snow from two days ago blankets the woods behind the house with silence. No birds are at the feeder of sunflower seeds. No deer have broken the snow to follow the creek’s path up to paw the snow looking for something green to eat. No owls meditate on the black branches. The abandoned nests of squirrels are mounded over with snow. Are squirrels underneath?

This zero is a door between death and living. A synapse. Which way will this day turn? Some things will die today. What will be born?

Hidden deep in the unmoving trees are impulses of leaves waiting for spring. Beneath the snow, the mice, voles, and woodchuck sleep. The frozen dawn rises pink and yellow on the horizon, slowly warming the air from nothing to eight degrees. Crows slide silently across the sky, their black wings gliding on the frost-crystallized air. A cardinal comes to the feeder, his brilliant red feathers bright against the white background. Another cardinal. Then their brown mates. One jumps into the snow to retrieve a seed and, for a moment, is buried to its neck. Wrens show up to share the feeder. Then chickadees, and a Downey woodpecker. The chirping of birds brings sounds to forests brittle with life.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Wandering Home - John Muir

I walk beneath the giant sequoias that John Muir loved, pick up three dark-green cones, and brush the snow off. Freshly cut down by Douglass squirrels, the sequoia seeds are tightly bound with the promise of new life to come.

At the end of this glorious winter day, even the sun is reluctant to set, its colors fading slowly from glowing orange to pink then the cosmic, cobalt blue. Constellations of stars string branches overhead with twinkling strands of lights. Muir said, “I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.”

Everywhere I go in Yosemite feels like home, no matter where I sleep at night. I’ve eaten meals in many places and sat for hours at scenic spots all around the valley. The beauty of this place continues to surprise and draw me deeper in. There is so little time to be part of this wonder.