A Beginner’s Mind

Although I have frequently cited the pressures on my time and the corresponding decrease in posts on this old beloved blog, the day’s short hours are not the only reason I am writing less.

Instagram is part of the reason, ridiculously enough. Now when I have an exciting picture to share I just share it there, and forget about trying to explain it.

MeWinter

But I have been wondering if the biggest reason isn’t most related to the Beginner’s Mind that I legitimately inhabited when I started writing on everycreepingthing, and the much more intermediate mind that is flailing around in my head now.

I suppose it is intermediate in more ways than one. I have changed from one decade of life to another since I started blogging almost three years ago. I have changed jobs too. I wouldn’t rush to declare myself grown up, but I have matured in ways that it didn’t occur to me I hadn’t yet when I was an unemployed recent outdoor educator with a back injury that sometimes permitted me to bike on back roads near my Mom’s house. Now my bike tires have been deflated for over a year, I finally was brave enough to live on my own, and I’ve stopped feeling like NPR Music is my streaming soulmate. Sorry Stephen Thompson.

But the thing that has changed the most is obviously my knowledge of the natural world. It was not utterly lacking to begin with. I paid attention to animals as a child, I loved to sit still and watch for so long that other kids found it bizarre when they tried to join in. Well, I assume that is how they felt. They didn’t last long. I found their lack of patience and sustained interest surprising and tragic (for them, duh). I observed my own small patch of the world. I didn’t have the specifics then, the teachers, the field trips. I owned just one (still beloved) field guide.

The specifics, and my more active pursuit of a natural history expertise, started when I returned from the state of Oregon and set out to name the trees I already knew better than the ones out West. I took my first class with the Audubon Naturalist Society and opened my eyes wide to the world of tall still winter trees. Fingers and nose were also involved, and some long frigid days with frozen toes. It was great, and it was four whole years ago. My mind was such a sweet little beginner then. We learned the Oaks last. There are so many Oaks in our forest that large remaining gaps in my knowledge were suddenly filled in, and I could finally walk through the woods without stumbling past many unknown characters.

Winter Tree ID depends heavily on buds, the little containers that protect preformed baby leaves and flowers. At least, my teacher said that is what they contained. I got to know the unique buds of the Mockernut Hickory and the Bitternut Hickory and the clustered Oak buds and the sweet round onion buds of the Dogwood. It was shocking when, living and working outside on the Eastern Shore, suddenly my recognizable buds began to split and disappear. In just days the predicted leaves, so mini and cute, came into the world. I had seen many photos of leaves, and some dry crumbly ones, but nothing prepared me for the amazing fulfillment of the bud’s firm promises, for the confirmation that a tree really was a Red Oak or a White Oak or a variably leaved Sassafrass.

And so I kept taking classes. I bought binoculars. Leaving environmental ed in the dust, for awhile, I wanted to keep sharing what I was learning, and the independent applications I made of my new knowledge. I wanted to try and understand this world, from the inside of our heads to the least observed corners of our own backyards. And I did have a lot to say!

Until now. Now I am realizing that it is not only the winter, or the Gram, or my many houred job that keeps me from adding new entries here. It is also a shift from seeing everything fresh to being a bit seasoned. I am very far from an expert, but I do not feel quite exactly wide eyed about everylittledetail someone shares with me or that I notice myself. I can fit them into familiar patterns now. The novelty and the sense that this is something that everyoneneedstoknow has worn, not off, but down. I still want everyone to know. I am still riveted by birds at a feeder. My table is covered with leaves I collected in the fall. Knowing a little more has made me, I think, more hesitant to go around making bold claims and sharing small pieces of information. It has also made me even more excited to go out there and see stuff when I can, rather than contemplate it from inside. Well, I am contemplating it inside, just deeper inside than the internet can yet reach. Perhaps.

In yoga they say that the Beginner’s Mind is something we must strive to return to. Having recently returned to yoga after a long break I do see the value in disconnecting from all those tightly gripped notions so easily glued down. Now, maybe, the information I’ve acquired over the last few years is settling down and I am looking around again. Maybe sometime later the words will come back.

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