Seven in the morning. Forty-seven degrees. October 2. I’m up to my knees in sage and rabbitbrush by the wide expanse of the Summer Lake playa in Oregon. Perfectly flat for forty square miles, the playa is the chalky white bed of an ancient, land-locked lake. Beside the empty expanse, I stand at the center of the four directions.
To the east, through the haze of the alkali flat, I can make out the low line of the Diablo Mountains. Behind me to the west rise Winter Ridge and Deer Head Mountain, barren and gray after last week’s wildfires. Black spars stud the slopes, all that remain of juniper groves and lodgepole pines. A few lines of smoke rise from stumps still smoldering after the burn. From the south come the complaints of cattle; from the north, the rolling rattle of sandhill cranes.
The full moon is setting at my back. As it touches the ridgeline, its broad yellow face silhouettes burned spars, as black and limbless as telephone poles. With perfect synchrony, the sun is rising across the playa, sliced through with pink cirrus stripes and a thin layer of smoke held by cold air over the flat. A quarter circle of sun emerges, a half circle, three-quarters—can the earth be turning this quickly?—and the sun escapes the mountains and stands alone. I have seen this color before: the blush at the stem end of an apricot. No breeze stirs. No bird calls out.
In places only a hundred miles away, in times only a few days past, microwaves, radio waves, and electromagnetic pulses shot through my body day and night. My car passed other cars at a combined 140 miles per hour. The hammer of the news cycle struck incessantly, faster and faster, impossible to sustain. Deadlines grew shorter, to-do lists grew longer. In the absence of human contact, electronic messages doubled, tripled, doubled back on themselves. FYI, BTW, LOL. As the earth hurtled through space, I felt I was leaning into a stiff wind, my hair blown back, my arms wheeling, staggering to stay in place.
But for this moment, in this place, I am held in perfect stillness by what I cannot see.
I am held in the arms of gravity. The moon would pull me west, the sun would pull me east, but the earth holds me to its fiery heart.
I am held by the atmosphere that clings tight to the earth. The spinning planet moves the air, bringing the smallest wind and the sound of trucks on the ranch road. But I will not be blown off the face of creation, because I am held by the sky I cannot see.
I am held in the pause of this moment between being and becoming—the time of a forty-mile, cow-stirred flat between two lake-times. Fourteen thousand years ago, there was the old lake flush with freshwater lapping against mountain benches, its marshes stirred by elephantine legs of mammoths and a juniper-wood paddle pushing a tule-reed canoe. Fourteen thousand years to come, there may be a new lake, steaming maybe, bubbling with red anaerobic algae that stain the beach. The playa boils to a skin of salt and fills again under lightning-split skies, part of endless cycles of cosmic creation and destruction.
A north wind is lifting the dust now, and the sun has diffused into a vague glare. I am a confluence of the wind and the dust, the cloud-shadows and the glare. They hold me in a swirl of interdependencies that I cannot see, but feel instead—not isolation, but a sense of peace, and maybe comfort, to be part of this place, created by it, enlivened by the breath of sage and smoke. All being is interconnected: “From the arising of this,” the Buddha said, “comes the arising of that.”
So now I will return through the sage to my desk, because I need to say this to you. Each morning invites you to be open and aware, as spacious as the sky that passes through you, recognizing “the precious nature of each day,” in the words of the Dalai Lama. No matter how frenzied you feel, no matter how shoved and strangled by the rush of events, you are standing in a single exquisite moment. No matter where you are, no matter how lost, you are standing at the perfect center of four directions. No matter how off-kilter you feel, you are standing in a place of perfectly balanced forces. Even if you feel abandoned by all that might comfort you, you are held in the embrace of what you cannot see.
Adapted from Take Heart: Encouragement for Earth’s Weary Lovers ©2022 by Kathleen Dean Moore. Reprinted by permission of Oregon State University Press.
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