Opening to a New Wind, the Sea Oat Nods

Sea Oat 1013Sometimes, it is merely a matter of bending with the breeze, opening up to what is available, allowing a new perspective. As Mark Twain said, “Loyalty to a petrified opinion never yet broke a chain or freed a human soul.” Nor will it ever for “openness is like the wind. If you open your doors and windows, it is bound to come in” (Chogyam Trunpa).

Openness is the stuff of adventure, and if given a choice, some step back from it. It is the unknown, the uncertain, the unproven so unlike all the labels to which we cling. Yet, at one time or another, the air in our lives grows stale, and we open to a new wind.

Every year, fall is my fresh air. It has long been my favorite season. Even when I lived in the West, I preferred fall to spring, which was an infrequent visitor to the high plains desert. Yet, the rare Rocky Mountain springtime meant seemingly endless prairies of wildflowers.

Now living near the Gulf of Mexico, I find fall comes gradually, mostly, a cooling down to allow another crop of vegetables, another round of blooming bedding plants. This year, fall feels as if it arrived over night, perhaps an afterthought of Tropical Storm Karen who managed to puff herself up a bit but was too disorganized to do much other than blow in autumn. Or at least that’s when I first felt fall.

It is my first autumn without Cooper. We enjoyed every season but when fall temperatures became the norm, we took to the road, sometimes every day of the week.  I smile at the flood of memories, ever grateful for each one. They open me to the fall that is, and I am ready for an outing.

Cooper Going on a Bye-Bye

It is easy to see Cooper in my mind’s eye sitting in the passenger seat as I drive to Mashes Sands, one of the few places on the Gulf coast that Cooper and I did not explore, although I cannot think why.

A day of sun and blue, the Gulf sparkles at low tide. The breeze is slight as I admire the sea oats so long absent after previous years of hurricanes as well as some recent tropical storms. Breathing in the salted air, I open to the moment of sun, sea, and me.

Sitting on the sand, I close myself to the openness always available in the gap between thoughts, in the pause that awakens awareness. All around me there is sentient movement, coming and going, ebbing and flowing. The fragile but flexible sea oat nods, finding it not difficult to bend, to open completely to possibility.

I hold sand in the palm of my hand as I squint to “see the world in a grain of sand” for I know it to be true. Thoughts fall left and right, like the sand flowing through my fingers, until each grain of thought mingles with all the others to become one. And that, too, is impermanent.

Before this fall ends, there are more breezes, gusts and maybe even gales to come. It is a matter of throwing open the doors and windows for whatever way the wind may blow, and like the sea oat, nod in acceptance.


Refuge in Winter

Yesterday was not the day I anticipated—it was so much more–always is, no matter the day. Anticipation is never present and always future, sometimes tinged with memory. In these days of living life without Cooper, the memories are abundant, like driving to St. Mark’s Wildlife Refuge to purchase our annual pass.

Often, our February trek coincided with the fairly recent but also annual event, the Wildlife Heritage and Outdoors Festival. The luxury of living so close to the Gulf of Mexico, less than a thirty minute drive, has never been taken for granted. It is a beauty still wild.

KMHuberImage; Gulf of Mexico, FL; St. Mark's Wildlife RefugeLow humidity, low 50s in a slow breeze, warm by any Nordic standards, it is a winter’s day in Florida. The crisp air is a refuge in itself, an annual visitor to a subtropical climate.

Not a wisp of cloud can be found in the blue sea that is the sky, yet in the shade of a towering Ponderosa pine, it’s not uncomfortable for me to wear two hoodies—a fleece from Seattle over basic black cotton from Florida—cushy winter vests are popular, too. Gloves of any kind are welcome.

Hot Tamale, a favorite musical group of mine, braves the briskness of February to entertain festival goers, breaking only for the turkey calling contest. For all afternoon, the music of Hot Tamale wafts through and around outdoor grills of sausages with grilled onions, down the single lane of exhibits and over the heads of children not always running with twigs in hands.

I marvel that Craig, Hot Tamale’s guitar player, manages to keep his guitar in tune, song after song, as he and Adrian sing us through Motown, Jefferson Airplane, Brooks & Dunn, and my all-time favorites, Hot Tamale originals. For two hours, I immerse myself in this winter’s day’s music, a refuge medley.

The shade from the Ponderosa pine broadens as the sun moves closer to 3 o’clock. It is time to begin the drive KmHuberImage; St. Mark's, Florida Gulf of Mexico between the festival site and the shores of the Gulf. Memories of past trips are quickly displaced by every image that is. It happens every time in this place primeval. The refuge diminishes all human presence for it is raw with life.

As I drive, Cooper is with me as much as he is not: heart-centered is a term I remember someone giving me. I liked it so much I wanted to discover its meaning on my own. And in that moment, I do: it is joy absorbing physical absence, fleeting but nonetheless felt.

I park the car, and the tide of memory rolls in: I am taking a photograph of the lighthouse, believing it to be a view I did not have. Cooper is content to remain in the car; perhaps, he knew it was just another picture of a lighthouse with trees. Cooper was tired is what I remember as the image of our last trip to the refuge fades.

The sun is now lower than three in the sky but not yet four as I walk down a path Cooper and I never did walk. It is a shortcut to the path he and I always walked, a new way to the path’s end where we always rested.  I realize path’s end has been my destination the entire day.

For a moment, I am awash in memory again: I am missing Cooper’s curiosity, his constant enthusiasm for the present, no matter where we were. No matter where we were…the realization of what that means jolts me.  I had been clinging to the memory of Cooper’s curiosity rather than rediscovering my own, as he had shown me time after time.

Just as Cooper found joy and enthusiasm in recognizing and rediscovering the scents of the refuge, I started taking photographs of the point, the palm tree, the “island” that is only another point of land, all images I seem to record every February’s  first trip to the refuge in winter.

They are the same and not the same, as Cooper is heart-centered, new and familiar with the scent of life ongoing.

KMHuberImage; St. Mark's Wildlife Refuge; Florida; Gulf of Mexico