Last weekend I spent a few days with my beloved camping in a high valley in the mountains. Near our tent there were hummingbirds chasing each other, wood peckers, ground squirrels, and a chipmunk. One morning a young buck wandered by. The sun and moon arched from one side of the valley to the other, shaded at times by the trees to one side of our tent, while the constant sound of rushing water came from the high brush on the other. Underneath us the ant people worked diligently as they do.
The sky overhead was sometimes clear and blue, or bright with nearly full moon and stars, at other times clouds painted varied patterns drifting in the high winds, or lowered gray and wet like a blanket stretched between the mountains. The thunder and rain came and went around the peaks on one side or the other, and one afternoon came straight through the valley.
I was struck by so many rhythms that danced and played around us. In only a few days. What would it be like in a year? From high summer with all the colors of the flowers, to the white of snow drifted winter. I wonder if Monet would have like to paint here?
Have you ever sat some place for a whole day, watching the changing appearance of a landscape, the clouds in the sky, or the tide coming and going? Sitting still the world is constantly in movement and rhythm around us. How can I know it from one instant, from one perspective, when it will be different in the next?
Long ago a Chinese painter wrote about painting a mountain. He said that to paint the mountain you had to know it. To know it you had to watch it from all its sides, in the different light of each hour of the day and each time of the year. With this complex perspective the mountain becomes not a single image, but a living composition reflecting all the rhythms playing out in the world around it.
At home on our front porch I’ve been enjoying the birds that live in the trees around our house. The woodpecker making a new home. The sparrows that moved in when he was away and are raising a family there. Their cousins nesting under the carport roof. The young robins being taught to eat the cherries that grow next door. Doves flying back and forth between the taller trees a block over.
Watching and also listening. Listening to the different voices and how they change during the day, when in flight, or resting in a tree. Slowly I realize that the sounds are not random, and only sometimes are they like a free song. Mostly they signify something to the other birds. Over time, experiencing these rhythms, things that might have seemed random begin to have meaning. I gain perspective and they come alive in deeper ways.
The birds in our trees, the clouds in a mountain sky, or the people you meet; all living things have internal rhythms, and responding to the rhythms of life around them they have external rhythms. To know something as more than a snapshot, a single instant of sound or image you have to learn the rhythms. Sometimes you can feel them by being still and letting the world dance around you. Sometimes you can move around the mountain. Either way you gain perspective and something comes alive in more of its dimensions.