I went hiking recently and just shy of mid-way I rebelled. We were almost 3 miles in, and we took a short break. The two people I was with got up to carry on, and I asked how much longer. 15 minutes. Just around the corner was an especially nice view. We were standing in front of a small lake with a view of mountains in the distance, the sun was shining, and a breeze ruffled the vegetation. Sort of like a four-year-old it hit me, and I expressed exactly what I was feeling…they should go, but I was staying because (stomp) otherwise I wouldn’t get to check anything out! I had a call later that afternoon, and if I carried on, we would have enough time for a short lunch break but would otherwise need to focus on getting back in time. It wasn’t a particularly challenging hike, but it was a new one with a narrow path that meant a good amount of my walking time was head down. After a little more insisting, they carried on and I … sat … down. And something happened. It was like I had been out of focus for quite some time, and then the picture sharpened. I felt the sun in a warming way, I felt connected to the ground as the breeze blew past me, I smelled the air, I heard the wind, I heard bugs, I heard birds. I saw everything around me. It was great. I looked around, and I thought – wow, I’m so grateful to be able to sit in such a beautiful place, at once alone but also a part of. In the quest for the best view, I had been apart from, looking up here and there, saying “cool,” moving on…trying to get somewhere. I hadn’t felt apart from the environment when I was hiking. It was only when I intentionally stopped to just be that my senses all engaged, and I felt a difference. I was so happy for those 30 minutes even if I didn’t get the “best view.”
Don’t get me wrong, sometimes soldiering on to get to the top or an end is super satisfying. Sometimes there is something extra special and unique at the end and the only way to get there in the time allotted is head down or hurried. But what happens when we are always, or too often, focused on the end or the “better” or “best,” without appreciating or even seeing how good some things are along the way?
I think this often is also true in the garden. We can be hyper-focused on the payday, the blooms, the bounty, and sort of work and task our way to that anticipated period. Which reminds me of an anecdote in a beekeeping course I took years ago. The teacher was lamenting how so often the number one question people ask about his bees is: How much honey do you get? He said his reply is often: How much sex do you get from your spouse? He is a slight, seventy plus year old man with a strong German accent, and so this little ditty caused quite the chuckle. His view: it isn’t just about the honey because he loves the bees.
The image above is lupine seeds last February. I had been experimenting with different methods for more consistent germination. I had collected these seeds the year before, and I sat down with a small knife and nicked each seed. This required some patience. I then put the nicked seeds on a damp paper towel, folded the towel, and placed it in a Ziploc in the refrigerator for a little more than a week. When I opened the paper towel after that period and saw this, well, there just isn’t a lupine flower that could likely bring me more joy than these little sprouts did! I then planted the little sprouted seeds and soon enough I had mini lupine leaves popping out everywhere. And lupine leaves are cute and perky. They jiggle, they bounce, they reach up and out. And as they get bigger and are outside or on established plants early in the season, they catch rain drops in the most beautiful way. Drops catch in the center and reflect the leaf veins looking sparkling and faceted like a diamond. The flowers are so beautiful, but they are fleeting. The plant cycle, though, is a lovely, much longer gardening journey when time is taken to stop and look at all the magic happening along the way.
Charles Darwin, during his South American expedition on the Beagle in recounting some of his various excursions, noted in a letter to his cousin that “he had become a great wanderer.” Wandering and wondering for Darwin was not a lazy or fanciful exercise. It was an opening of the mind, an intellectual exploration as much as a physical one. He took the time to take it all in. Where along the way did the end or perceived highlight become so much, sometimes our everything? What are we missing in the ever-present focus on paydays, perfect pictures, something better? What are we tuning out or not seeing as our vision is tunneled and hurried? I’m not quite sure why I had such a strong urge on my hike to stop so I could check things out, but I’m glad I did. It wasn’t a pause or a break, it turned out that it was the point, and just what I was looking for.