finding transcendence in every day life

We’ve now lived through three seasons of life here on 64 acres atop a mountain in Vermont. Nature is pervasive here—the sounds, fragrances, sights, and sensations we experience are all from the forest, the pond, the creek, or the animals and plants that inhabit them. This nature-immersion has been transformative for all of us, and I’ll write some about my own experience here. 

This nature-based lifestyle has been a big exhale for me, and a meditative return to being present with what is. Prior to moving, the idea of being present with what is, surrounded by nature with very little cultural distractions was simultaneously terrifying and luring. I knew I’d have to face some of the older, deeper psychological and spiritual work I had set aside when I moved back to LA to take a break from the heaviness and intensity that can sometimes come with the process of being me.

Working in the garden, planting trees, caring for animals, and living through winter, spring, and summer has shown me that I can simply be. The cycles of nature continue on ever forward in magnificence regardless of my internal state. I don’t need faith to believe that. I witness it daily. This has been good and therapeutic.

At the start of summer, I didn’t have enough faith to plant our garden. You take this tiny seed and bury it in the dirt. This seems preposterous. You don’t bury important things, usually. And something that tiny? Forget about it. I don’t like wasting my time on ridiculous things. So, I sat there and watched Collin plant the garden while I talked about how I wasn’t sure this Vermont life was really working out for me. 

After a few days, tiny sprouts appeared. That was encouraging enough that I figured I may as well water those tiny little green things. They looked so excited to be there, speckling the brown dirt with their tiny green lives. I didn’t want to hurt their feelings, but they were very small. I didn’t see how this was ever going to amount to much. Nevertheless, it became part of our daily ritual to water the plants after we had let the chickens and bunnies out in the barnyard. 

So, as time went on, day after day, we’d water these hopeful sprouts, pull up weeds, and slowly witness their growth. 

I would not have believed it except that I watched it happen with my own eyes. Little by little these sprouts became carrots, broccoli, lettuce, kale, pumpkins, cucumbers, squash, and zucchini. We ate whole dinners comprised mainly of food from that garden. We continued to pull the weeds and fed them to the chickens who were starting to lay eggs. 

The stems and leftover food that we didn’t eat kept going into “the compost bin” as Collin called it. I was pretty sure that was just disgusting new kind of trash can specifically for food scraps, but it seemed to make Collin feel resourceful. So I continued putting all of our food scraps in there. Again, I had very little hope and zero faith in this process. 

Then one day he took me out to where he had been periodically dumping the bin and turning it all year, and it was actually the richest, brownest, and earthiest dirt I’ve ever seen. Again, I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes. There was no trace of peels or rinds or stems or egg shells. What once was all that refuse and garbage was now rich, beautiful earth ready to provide nutrients to next year’s garden. We continued to tend to the garden and eventually those tiny sprouts I didn’t even have enough hope to plant nourished us throughout the entire summer. 

I had a similar experience witnessing the seasons. I had a difficult time believing that it would actually be wintry as we were moving here. When we drove away from Topanga last November, we were leaving 80 degree sunshine days. Our skin was sun-kissed, and our feet were bare. We had sand from the beach in our car and throughout the bottom of my purse. Within 5 days of arriving to Vermont, we needed our snow gear. By February, I was a full believer in snow. It was what we had known for three and a half months by then and what we would continue to know for at least another month and a half. 

By March it was difficult to believe spring would actually come. I found it hard to believe that all the trees would be full of life and green leaves again. Winter is deep and far reaching here, and it leaves naked branches, frozen ground, and very little color in the woods. By April, when the sky was overcast for days, I thought that this winter must have finally broken spring. There would be no more color. There would be no more blue sky or sunshine days. How could there ever be warmth again when all felt damp and cold for so long? 

And then, one day in early May, when all hope of anything green or good seemed lost, there were buds on the magnolia tree. Blossoms are miraculous. When the green returns to the grass and the leaves on the trees really do reappear, it seems like life is overcoming all odds. It all seems so impossible and ridiculous and crazy—like even though it happened once before, it could never happen again.

So, I think I’ll stay here a while longer just to see what happens. Just to see if indeed the leaves really will all turn different colors this autumn. Just to see if this compost we made really will prepare the soil for next year’s garden. Just to see if the ground really will frost again. I want to be here to see if the pond will freeze solid again so that what was our swimming hole all summer becomes our ice skating rink once more. It seems impossible. Good thing nature doesn’t rely on my faith to keep performing her miracles. 

“To find the universal elements enough; to find the air and the water exhilarating; to be refreshed by a morning walk or an evening saunter…to be thrilled by the stars at night; to be elated over a bird’s nest or a wildflower in spring — these are some of the rewards of the simple life.”  —John Burrough

Zuri really embodies the transcendence in every day life.
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