Rapt attention — for the moment

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On a recent visit to my favourite forest glade, I sat on a moss-covered rock and looked around. It being late fall, the trees — maple, oak and beech — were almost stripped of leaves. Almost. Every few seconds, a single leaf drifted down a long diagonal path to join its cousins on the ground. It occurred to me that I had never seen the exact moment when a leaf broke away from its tether on the branch. I stared intently at a ragged cluster of oak leaves shaking in the wind, but without success. The leaves kept falling, but all I managed to see was their flight in mid-air.

Almost certainly, I didn’t look long enough. Distraction overrode patience — the focused patience required to enter a world that does not follow human rules of time. Oh, the usual excuses applied for my wandering attention: the sound of the wind ruffling the leaf litter; the sight of two chipmunks chasing each other along a fallen log; the shifting light of the sky. The mind casting sideways to the unfinished work scattered across my desk; the supper meal to be prepared; the Zoom call an hour away.

But today, as I sit here at my desk, journal open, pen in hand, I look out the window at the nearly bare maples, oaks and beeches in our yard. A single copper leaf floats downward through the sunlit air. I continue to look, obeying whatever counter-impulse is urging me not to rush back to the page and pen. And then I spot a tiny glow of iridescent azure blue: the glint of sunlight on a drop of water nestled on a branch. This evanescent day-star gleams less than a moment before the sun’s path shifts and the blue disappears. Tears prick.

I want to sit here all afternoon, all day, all week, engaged in rapt attention. I know that won’t happen: distractions and duties pull too strongly, and I will soon rise and go do something else. Mary Oliver taught us much about paying attention, but even she recognized our human limits.

For the moment, though, I’m content to sit here just a little longer. It’s not long enough, but it will do.

Image courtesy Dennis P from Pixabay

Such Silence

As deep as I ever went into the forest
I came upon an old stone bench, very, very old,
and around it a clearing, and beyond that
trees taller and older than I had ever seen.

Such silence.
It really wasn’t so far from a town, but it seemed
all the clocks in the world had stopped counting.
So it was hard to suppose the usual rules applied.

Sometimes there’s only a hint, a possibility.
What’s magical, sometimes, has deeper roots
than reason.
I hope everyone knows that.

I sat on the bench, waiting for something.
An angel, perhaps.
Or dancers with the legs of goats.

No, I didn’t see either. But only, I think, because
I didn’t stay long enough.

~ Mary Oliver



  1. Maureen McGahey

    November 1, 2020

    I was reflecting on the falling leaves on my walks this fall.
    It’s true that it is hard to witness the actual release of a leaf from its branch.
    It lead me to a meditation of letting go… how very incremental the process is. It too is a process of patience.
    Everything in its own time.
    Nature teaches me how natural a final letting go is.
    Thank you for this.

  2. Janice

    November 1, 2020

    Dear Mary Lou – this poem was written for you, could be written by you – the rhythm of your words re-creates the stillness you found in the glade and helps me to slow down enough today to watch a leaf fall, perhaps the single remaining one on our now-bare gingko. Thank you for this peaceful, meditative moment with you. love Jan

  3. Pat

    November 1, 2020

    I felt I was there. Thank you . It’s beautiful. Xoxoxo


    November 1, 2020

    I too was pondering the falling of leaves this week, watching a small golden hickory leaf dance its way to the ground. Imagine seeing the moment of release from the twig! A beautiful and maybe impossible coincidence. That “focused patience required to enter a world that does not follow human rules of time.” What came to mind was a haiku I read years ago in a book of haiku by master Carl Strand. He said he thought this was the perfect haiku by a Japanese master:

    the paulownia leaf
    caught all the while in sunlight
    flutters to the ground

    Thank you, Mary Lou, for capturing your watching and seeing in such exquisite words.

  5. Leslie

    November 2, 2020

    What a lovely description of fall. The large walnut tree in our backyard is preparing to drop its leaves. I will need to sit patiently to see if I can spot the moment a leaf breaks free from its stem to float to the ground.

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