Among the Pine Needles

For a week now, I’ve been waking up around 5am. Sitting to meditate for a few minutes, letting the dog out back to pee and then sneaking out front to go for a walk alone around my neighborhood. Not walking, mind you–this is not exercise. Sometimes I go in flip flops. Sometimes I go without a bra. I’m taking a noticing walk. To hear the birds. To feel the surprising breeze; in a few hours, it will hit 100 degrees and I could suffer heat stroke in the car ride to Target, say. When I get back, I write in my notebook at the kitchen table and look up the names of plants in a book I got at the library. I read poetry. Am thrilled by lines like these:

“How is it, such wealthy redemption/ in a fence post, a rusting stove?…On the earth, feet receive direct knowledge… Cattle raise their heads–they are listeners,/ as I become the deepest listener/ where there is least to hear.” — Naomi Shihab Nye, from At Otto’s Place (in Words Under the Words)

Eventually, my children wake up and come down for a bowl of cereal. I make my bed. Let the dog in. His walk will come later. In the evening, when it’s cool again.

Early morning roost in the Ocotillo
Morning roost in the Ocotillo

I’ve tried at various points in my life to wake up early like this. But usually the effort is shrouded in anxiety. I’m waking up to exercise or to write. To be productive. It doesn’t last. Now I’m just doing it to live. I’m waking up to pay attention. There are no real rules. Just a pattern I like. And for once it feels sustainable.

I began last week after realizing how unhappy I’d been feeling. It was strange, because there was no real reason for it. Life is good, overall. My usual anxieties—money & relationships—are fine. Great, even. I’ve been writing daily. Feeling healthy. So what, then? Why did I feel like I was being dragged through my life rather than in conscious control of it? I’m still not entirely sure. But I happened upon this post about habits, which led me to this podcast featuring the poet Mary Oliver, whom I adore. And she inspired me to take back noticing. To not let the fact that I live in a scorching desert trick me into never going outside. Into not “let[ting] the soft animal of [my] body love what it loves.”

Every morning presents some miracle: a hummingbird scooping her head to feed on the red yucca. Enormous black bees swarming the blooming desert candle. Today, a hairpin among the sidewalk’s fallen pine needles.

Desert candle. I learned that from my library plant book.
Desert candle. I learned that from my library plant book.