The Practice of Presence: Responding to Inner & Outer Landscapes Field Notes and Poems (Part One)

SWW 2015 Looking
North Cascades Institute hosted a class called Sit, Walk, Write: Nature and the Practice of Presence. Participants began their days with a sitting meditation, followed by writing and sharing poetry and short nature essays, walking meditation, and exploring the woods around the Learning Center. Here are some participant poems that came out of this unique weekend in the North Cascades.
Falls Musings
By Barbara Retelle
Look up
Kaleidoscope of colored leaves
Of a tree
Look down
Multi layered years of leaves
Sink into the sponge beneath
Musky mass
Look all around
Mossy covered branches
Crisp tickling chill in the air
Dew drops fall to tongue from leaves
Sparkling fresh
Look again
Titter of Wren
Chatter of Douglas Squirrel
Ripple of Deer Creek
Whispering breeze fluttering Maple leaves
It is Fall
By Sara Battin
Remnant of past windstorms
High wire acrobat held by spidery pallbearers
Adorned in their golden goodness.
Yours a mystery to hold my passing by ­‐
Wondering how you came to be so strung.

In the Forest of Falling Leaves
By Sarah Fisher
A twig snaps beneath
Gravel clashes against other small stones underfoot
A stream of water tumbles nearby—and to the ear seems
A concentrated cacophony that could very well
Drown me into silence. But not silence.
The tempo of my elevated breath, outpaced
By another step, more misplaced gravel, the softening
Created by the every-­‐deepening layer of leaves below.
I cannot help but notice
They have fallen, passed, yielded.
And I?
I have continued—breaking twigs, releasing
More miniscule gravel landslides, heartbeat still echoing within.
My foot steps continue on.
It is not my turn yet
To be leaf.
SWW 2015 Grass
Observations in Nature
By Steffany Raynes
This is an amphitheater
A complexly layered show in slow motion.
No gardener made these
Wild combinations of twisted branches, and
Stumps beneath standing alder and cedar,
Sword fern and woody debris
Patched with bright green moss
Amidst piles of brown and green fallen leaves.
Nothing artificial here
Except my front row seat, the platform on which I sit,
And the roar of jet plane high over my head.
Observations During Practice
By Steffany Raynes
At meditation this morning tears slid down my cheeks and “begin again” came to mind—how I look for a mantra, a lesson, that will comfort me, and take me to that deep sweet space I always hope to find and every time I sit, I have to begin again—there’s no short cut, no guarantees, no “sure thing” that will get me there. I have to start where I am over and over and over again.
Yoga tonight reminded me that I want to celebrate and honor my body, even in its decline. Every creak reminds me that my body is alive. Reframing the pain and discomfort as information to get curious about allows me to observe my body the same way I try to do in the natural world. I want to try to find a way to turn towards what is unlovely and painful. And learn to live with my perfect imperfection.
I am learning to welcome the life cycle, my life cycle, to see all of it as part of oneness, the complexity and paradox, the beauty and sorrow. Nothing is wrong.
Newhalem Creek Trail
By Steffany Raynes
Rocks and trees create a chunky obstacle-filled passageway before emerging in rainforest of huge old cedars, above a moss-covered forest floor and a gradual descent to a rocky creek side spot. This is where I clamber down to sit beside Newhalem Creek, between trees, bedded down in soft moss for precious communing time, where it feels cool except in the high heat of summer in the highest sun time of day, because this is the bottom of the canyon.
Water bounces and ricochets, narrowing and widening, sharped by rocks – huge dark boulders with white lines, random designs that seem fart too interesting to be random; water foams and runs, and shines and dances, deep and shallow—spraying and laughing. Here in early summer, native columbine- red and golden yellow—stand tall above the ferns, flowers I have photographed over many years, with a watery background making them seem extra-ordinary, which they truly are.
This particular spot, this place that feels sacred to me, has been changed forever by fire: in face I may not be able to return to it for some time.
Remains to be seen.

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