Monday, June 2, 2008

Seize the moment

I was logging my miles on a walk when I saw her, a slight, young girl sitting there on the rock at the beach. Her head was down, her hands were in her lap and her shoulders were hunched over a bit. Her long blond hair flowed over them and riffled in the breeze.

Her back was to me, but from my vantage point, she didn’t seem to be moving, even though other children nearby were running and playing in the sand. Other nearby adults, parents perhaps, glanced over at her occasionally but didn’t seem worried.

I stood and watched. Maybe five minutes passed. As far as I could tell, she still hadn’t looked up, wiggled, twisted or moved at all. Finally, I began to walk toward her to make sure she was all right. As I circled around to get a better head-on view, I saw what she had been doing for all that time.

She was looking at a shell … turning it over and over in her hand, running her fingers along the ridges and swirls. She was smiling with sparkling eyes. The child clearly was entranced. Relieved that she was OK, I continued my walk but kept the little girl’s wonder and joy in my mind.

And then someone turned on the memory light bulb over my head.

In another era, that little girl on the rock was me. That’s why the vision of her had captivated me so: I’d repeatedly done the same thing when I was her age, spending long chunks of time studying a treasured shell from along the Atlantic-Ocean shore.

Back in the present, I envied both little girls for their ability to single-track focus, for their unquestioning sense of wonder and magic … and for the spare time they had for studying those shells. I so wanted all that back.

How long had it been since I was that completely engrossed in and thrilled by something so simple yet so complex? Since I’d taken the time to really, truly appreciate the wonders of the world?

Too long.

We live at the edge of the sea, but do we really see it any more, or is it just a majestically moving-mural backdrop to our lives?

We live at the midst of a rare, historic forest, but how long has it been since any of us big people have really studied one of its pines or oaks, a cone or a root and felt the power of its ages?

Looking back toward my long-gone child again, I remembered lying on the ground, looking up through a tree’s branches to the blue sky and dreaming … probably for hours. Is that child gone forever?

These days, when we see the deer, the otters, the pelicans, we smile and feel false pride in our wisdom, because we’re smart enough to live here. But do we stop and really watch as a casually strolling doe stands stock still and stares back, cockily confident that we’re merely a minor irritant in the grand scheme of things?

How many weeks (months, years) has it been since we’ve sat on the pier at San Simeon? Or driven to Morro Bay and taken time along the way to park, sit on the car hood and absorb the beauty of the sweep of beach down to the rock? Or stopped on the way to Templeton to admire the twists and curves of an ancient oak tree?

There’s so much that we busy-busy adults see but don’t observe and appreciate. We drive through Cambria’s streets, but do we pause to enjoy the quirky diversity of the homes’ architecture and settings? To wonder, “Just who are those people who live in there?”

We dash downtown to grab a quart of milk or a prescription, but don’t take time to appreciate Cambria’s unique blend of charm and idiosyncrasy. How long since we walked through a mission, Hearst Castle or a museum … hiked through a forest, jogged down a shoreline or strolled along a meadow path?

Much too long.

So, see ya, folks. It’s past time. I’ve got a play date with Mother Nature.

E-mail Kathe Tanner at

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