A week ago when I was walking my Saluki Odin, four squirrels chased each other across the sidewalk right in front of us, caught sight of Odin, and tore across the street to escape up some trees.
It was a sunny, sixty-degree day that felt like spring though it was still early March and had been in the thirties the day before. I was holding Odin’s leash loosely, lost in some thoughts about work I needed to finish up before those squirrels ran by.
Bam! My left knee hit the sidewalk, my glasses flew a few feet ahead of me, Odin’s leash was no longer in my hand, blood from my cheek ran to my lip.
I took a breath and luckily stood up easily. My knee and cheek were scraped but the fall wasn’t bad. Odin stood laser-focused at the bottom of the tree across the street where the squirrels had fled.
He’s a Sighthound, an ancient breed that hunts gazelle in Egypt and the Persian Gulf region where they come from. When we adopted him through an international rescue, our trainer showed us how to walk him properly with two hands on the leash. When he sees a squirrel, we can stop and give a command for him to leave it. Odin generally responds well.
In truth, during the winter months when squirrels are rarely seen on our walks, I let the leash slacken and hold him by one hand, as I was on that day. Without the squirrels around, he’s easy to walk. If I see a squirrel ahead in the winter months, I’ll tighten my grip.
On that early March day, the landscape had already changed-but I wasn’t tuned in to it. It was spring as far as the squirrels were concerned, even if the calendar hadn’t made it official yet.
The fall and my letting go of Odin’s leash shook me. I thanked whatever angels were nearby, maybe just those of luck and chance.
Walking back home with Odin was a waking up for me. The landscape was moving into spring everywhere around me-daffodils coming up, forsythia starting to bloom, squirrels in a madcap frenzy ready to torment my dog. The miraculous, mysterious movement into spring.
The winter before last was filled with many bleak moments while I was grieving my mother and starting the second year of separation from my teenage son (who attends a residential treatment program) because of the Covid pandemic. My spiritual counselor shared the poem Beannacht by the late Irish poet John O’Donahue with me as a balm. In it, he writes:
‘And when your eyes
the gray window
and the ghost of loss
gets into you,
may a flock of colours,
indigo, red, green
and azure blue,
come to awaken in you
a meadow of delight.’
It became a mantra for me as I imagined those colors, even though I was surrounded by literal and spiritual gray.
Since that season, I have immersed myself in O’Donohue’s teachings-I read his work, listen to recordings of his voice, and marvel at how close his gentle, mystical wisdom feels to me. His teaching about connecting to the landscape around us especially feels like an invitation this spring.
Recently the On Being podcast replayed an interview with O’Donohue called ‘The Inner Landscape of Beauty.’ One teaching he shares:
“Well, I think it makes a huge difference, when you wake in the morning and come out of your house, whether you believe you’re walking into dead geographical location, which is used to get to a destination, or whether you’re emerging out into a landscape that is just as much if not more alive as you, but in a totally different form, and if you go towards it with an open heart and a real, watchful reverence, that you will be absolutely amazed at what it will reveal to you.”
Since the afternoon of my fall, I’ve been trying to take my walks with the watchful reverence that O’Donohue describes. In just a few weeks, the lush beauty of spring in the Northeast will be here, in full bloom. Rather than just land in it, I’m appreciating the stages of the transformation taking place, watching the world come back to life day by day, one flower at a time.
Of course, the landscape of this spring is also set in remembering-the collective anniversary of living with the fear and losses of the Covid pandemic for two years. With that heavy anniversary upon us, the world erupted in an unthinkable war. Like so many of us, I feel hopeless and helpless much of the time. Writing about the spring~connecting my observations of the landscape to what’s stirring inside me~has been a grounding practice that I plan to carry through the season.
New skin has already grown over the cut on my face now. When I look in the mirror, I can hear John O’Donahue’s voice reminding me to notice those new cells with wonder…and give thanks.
For anyone interested in joining me in a contemplative writing process, I invite you to check out my upcoming (online) writing-intensive Writing With The Seasons: Spring Cleaning For Your Soul.