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Lions Roar : March 2009
SHAMBHALA SUN MARCH 2009 72 superiority, and delighted also, as junior hunter-gatherers, to be providing for me. We all three have little baskets—in the dimming blue light of dusk, I absolutely can’t find a single one—and from time to time the girls take pity and come over to where I’m down on my hands and knees, searching, and drop a few into my basket. And as is their habit, they eat far more than they pick, not even really hunter-gatherers but more like wild animals, feasting in the moment, letting their bodies do the hoarding, rather than jars or cabinets—the girls more a part of the forest, in that manner, in that moment— and by the time it is too dark to see well, and we must walk back toward our truck, the baskets have barely enough strawberries to drop into our pancake batter for the next morning: but they will be memorable pancakes, and it will be enough. Just as we reach the truck, some friends come driving by, and they stop to visit for a while in the dusk, with the old sentinel larches so immense all around us. Our friends’ own children are grown now, and they reminisce about picking wild strawberries with their chil- dren when they were Mary Katherine and Lowry’s age. They keep telling me what everyone has been saying since the day each of the girls was born—about how fast time flies—and I agree, and thank them for their counsel. They keep looking at the girls’ little baskets of berries and smiling, and saying that same thing again and again throughout the course of the lazy-dusk conversation—and yet I don’t know what to do about that truth, that inescapable flight, other than to go out into the patches of light scattered here and there along the edges of the old forest and pick strawberries with them in the evening, just as we’re do- ing. And while I’m very grateful for the advice, I also wonder often if it, the time of childhood, doesn’t sometimes pass faster for the parent by considering and noticing the speed of its pas- sage, as opposed perhaps to a sleepier, less attentive, less fretful awareness of that passage and its nearly relentless pace. either way, it’s going to go fast. I know I’m doing what I can to slow it down. Reading to them in the evenings; cooking with them; taking them on hikes, to swim in the mountain lakes. Any activity I do with them could be done faster and more efficiently, but only recently have I come to understand that the slower and more inefficiently we do these things, the greater is my gain, our gain; the less quickly that galloping stretch of time passes. Taking three hours to fix a single, simple meal is a victory. Coming back from two hours in the woods with only a dozen strawberries left over is a triumph. Chaos and disorderliness can be allies in my goals of spending as much time as possible with them. If I’ll only watch and listen, they’ll show me—for a while— how to slow time down: instructing me in a way that I could never otherwise learn from the caring counsel of my friends. Still, it’s good to hear it, even if bittersweet. I know not to argue with them, or deny it. I know, or think I know, the sound of the truth, and it’s wonderful to have their support in the matter. We say our leisurely good-byes and part company in the hanging dusk, which is turning quickly now to darkness, so that we need to turn our lights on, traveling down the road on our way through the old forest. On the way home the girls would eat every single one of the last of the berries, if I let them—would run right through the last of our supplies in only a minute or two—and so I put the little straw baskets in the cab of the truck, just out of reach. THeRe’S STILL TIMe for me to learn some of what they see and know and feel. It’s not too late. I can still learn, or relearn, some, if not all, of what they seem to know intuitively about our engagement with time. When to walk, when to run, when to rest, when to dream. When to be tender—more often than not—and, by extension, what and what not to be. I want to believe that my bitterness and cynicism, and my fears for the environment and the coming world, fade when in their company; that such worries leach away, as if back into the soil of the landscape itself, where they might even be absorbed by the rattling cottonwoods and the scented orchids. It is probably not that way at all. But some days, after a time spent in the woods with the girls, that is how it feels. And I rarely come away from such days without feeling that I have learned something, even if I’m not sure what it is, and that although time certainly has not ceased or even paused, at least it has not accelerated in that awful way it can do sometimes, time slipping out from beneath you as if you’ve lost your footing on ice or some other slick surface. I guess it’s better to be aware of the briskness of its passage than not, after all. It’s going to go fast, either way. But if you’re aware of its brevity, then at least you’ll be aware too of the eddies and slow stretches. But my friends who stopped and visited the other evening when we were picking berries were right: it’s going to go real fast, either way. The best I can do is try and keep up. —JANUARY, 2005 Meeting the Chinese in St. Paul by Natalie Goldberg AS A SOTO zeN STUdeNT I had successfully steered clear of koans for almost my full twenty-five years of practice. They were considered more a part of the fierce Rinzai zen training and PHOTOBYMOLLYNUdeLL