Hushed by the woods, I tiptoed my way down the narrow trail, keen to every rustle in the thickets. Birds no longer tweeted here. The trees were too profuse for their calls. Only the leaves sighed in rapt unknowable languages, murmuring amongst themselves a poetry I couldn’t understand. And every once in a while, when I turned a corner or climbed another set of stone steps I heard a gurgling — the ancient song of water burbling over rocks. But of the stream itself there was no visible sign.
Something deep within me bubbled up at the sound of that hidden rivulet: an emotion that identified with the musicality of fluid meeting solid; a feeling of instant, tender, ephemeral joy which wanted to burst from my pores to meet its ebullient twin. I wasn’t hunting for this state of mind; I hadn’t even noticed it had gone missing. But, the minute joy spread through my body I knew its absence had affected the way I moved through the world. I began to wonder when and how I had lost it, and whether I could actively nurture this joy as a perpetual wellspring of sustenance.
“What gives me joy,” I wondered, meandering between the dense fern vegetation. Thick, furry trunks of elms and alders closed out the sun, leaving the understory in shades of black and topaz. And, I perceived that this dance of shadows delighted me. A branch of maidenhair trembled forward to graze my knee. I stooped down to examine its filigreed delicacy and realized that this architecture also delighted. A caterpillar hobbled across a thread flung between two shrubs; a moment before I had not observed the filament, yet now as the creature performed its high-wire act I couldn’t unsee it. “What serendipity,” I murmured. By chance the caterpillar and I had met at a time when its journey allowed me to witness nature’s inevitable interrelationship.
The more incidents I stopped to savor, the wider became my scope of delights. I didn’t make headway on my hike, but what did that matter? Every fount of glee led to another, until I was lost in a landscape of ecstasy. “Could it be,” I mused, “that the key to maintaining joy was to pursue it? To actively contemplate where and how I might discover sources of it?” It was a practice; it was work I had to be willing to do. Like keeping a gratitude journal or reciting bedtime prayers, this took investment and could too easily progress into a chore — one readily dropped for more urgent battles.
Outside of forest and garden, I caught myself reluctant to seek out delight. What would people think of me cackling over a pigeon that had entered a train compartment as if it meant to ride downtown? Was it weird that I was amused by the uneven patterned brick facade on the highway? What did it say about me that I could be captivated by the flawed graphic of a digital walk sign or fall in love with a booming laugh in a quiet restaurant? So often it felt like the capacity for exuberance was relegated to the youngest of children. They were allowed to bellow out songs while waiting in line; grown-ups smiled indulgently at their nonsensical conversations and afforded them room on the sidewalk to dance. A euphoric adult implied a fool, a delinquent, or someone unhinged. Despite this, could I hopscotch my way down eighth street?
I found it easy to detect joy when the universe worked alongside my ego. Harder to train myself for its existence when I’d missed my bus in the rain, suffered illness or injury, endured rejection and unkindness. In the middle of a harsh week I doubted it was possible to locate delight. Yet, in that instance, someone passed by and said, “Great sunset isn’t it?” It was. I couldn’t deny that glimpse of fiery sky in between buildings made my innards effervesce the same way the prattling stream had done. Alongside my sadness, in the ugliness of my discomfort, I had to acknowledge that kernel of joy. And it felt wrong — as if the two shouldn’t prevail side by side. Yet, they do. I don’t want to forget amid mourning loss and grieving over displacement to take notice of the beauty that still incites pleasure. Because when I stop paying attention, when I don’t search for and admit what enthralls me, I won’t even see that it’s gone.
At the end of my trek there was a waterfall. Not the tallest or the largest. It was a double cascade framed by mossy rock and green saplings, which poured into the now revealed creek. It was a jewel. I had the urge to share the vision with another person; to wish there was someone next to me I could nudge and whisper, “Look! Look! Do you see what I see? Do you love it the way I love it?” I remembered this when the stranger commented on the sunset. It’s something I don’t do often enough. I’m more likely to cling to my private joys like hoarded treasure, cynical anyone else will participate in my passions. But, perhaps, by bearing witness to my ledger of delights I can make space for more. Maybe, by broadcasting my joys I can grow in the discipline of watching for them as through lines in my life. Perhaps, by giving my joys publicity they can be a stream I return to again and again. Maybe, in the act of joining my delight to that of others, I can find the truest connections.
You don’t need a car to explore Columbia River Gorge, land of Sahaptin and Chinookan speakers in Oregon. Try biking along the Columbia River Highway State Trail. Or take the Columbia River Gorge Express shuttle to one of the many scenic hikes.
What is bringing you joy?
The Columbia Gorge is an amazing place, especially if you take both the small views and the big. That’s the beauty of the trails, you get in a little ways and the big views down the gorge are obscured, encouraging enjoyment of the smaller things. But the gorge has been a tease for us in recent years; first closed after the wildfires of a few years ago, and now, once trails were starting to open again, closed again due to social distancing rules. The ferns in the yard will have to do…
I feel so fortunate to have explored the Columbia Gorge while it was open to the public. Though your yard does not have the same scope as the park, I am certain it is as full of beauty. The smaller things in which we find delight – the new ferns, the buzzing bees, the young grasshoppers – can be as wonderful close to home as they are on far flung travels.
Thanks so much! Take care.
What it says about you is that you continue to look at the world through the wide-awake eyes of an impressionable adult-child. And express what you see and feel in the language of a poet. 😊
🤗 How very sweet of you! I like to keep that childish quality of curiosity with me (although I think it should be an adult quality too). To be considered a human-child-poet by you is an honor.
Thank you for sharing your joy, delight, and contemplation in this beautiful post. Nature is very inspiring and helps to rejuvenate and find bliss. The Columbia River Gorge is a place that I’d love to visit one day. Hope I’ll enjoy it like you did.
I’m so very delighted that I could share my exploration of this marvelous place with you. I think when you visit it will be as much of fairy land to you as it was to me. Take care.
i like how you weave the two concepts- contemplating the pursuit of joy and the discipline of that practice, and simultaneously discovering nature and the beauty from nature. i needed this reminder to pursue joy and to be more mindful of the fleeting beauty that exists in the everyday, for me to keep my eyes open to see it. thank you. =)
Oh, thanks so very much for your charming compliment! I’m so happy to have you drop by for a visit and chat. Hoping this finds you safe and well. 😊
A delight to read. 😊👍
Thank you ever so much. I hope this finds you well and safe. ☺️
Joy, public or private is… I can’t begin to describe it. For instance I envy you in the US, who can access wonderful parks relatively easily anywhere. Same in France. The countryside is always close. Here, in this urban monster of Mexico city, Nature seems so far away. Thanks for the stroll.
You’re most welcome Brian. I think the joy we discover is shaped differently depending on the landscape we find ourselves in. I do remember that while in Mexico City I delighted in hanging out in Chapultepec and Parque España, but also in meandering through the archaeological museum and the Templo Mayor for hours on end. Wishing you well. Take care.
Nice spots you picked up… be good.
Your post reminded me of Marie Kondo and her famous phrase. It’s so important that we stop and think: What’s our spark joy? I’ve taken to cooking these days because I’m not sure when we’d get back to travel. Even cycling and walking make me happy. Love that gorgeous waterfall. I hope we can hike soon. Hope you’re well and safe! Take care! xo
Haha. Yes, there’s something in what Kondo says about closets and clothes that should thread through all aspects of our lives. Happy to hear you’ve been pursuing activities that are sparking that joy for you during this time. Be well. 🤍
I really love the view in that lead image.
I know, isn’t it fantastic? I loved this region of Oregon when I visited. It was my sort of fairy land.
I lived in Washington State for a few years and we visited Oregon a couple of times, it has its own special version of natural beauty.
Your words brought me joy and that stunning double cascade total delight. I’m not usually one to initiate conversation with strangers but perhaps with the isolation and the desire to feel connection I have found myself doing much more of this the last few months. It feels so good sharing a few words about a beautiful morning or a flowering tree.
Thank you! I too tend to be more an observer than a conversation initiator, but so many of us introverts are realizing we still need the human connection in our own different ways.
One of the things bringing me joy right now is being able to read blogs such as yours, benefitting from the beautiful photos that so many bloggers are sharing, and recognising the sense of commonality that many people around the world are experiencing.
Thank you for your lovely, lovely post. I enjoyed it very much. 🙂
It brings great delight to me to be told that my words are providing such joy to others. Those of us who have built online communities are so fortunate during this time to be able to lean upon it as a source of comfort and assistance. I think of so many who don’t have the luxury of digital access who are struggling with isolation and I am deeply grateful for sweet connections with wonderful people like you.
Mindfulness in pretty much all of its attentiveness is welcomed! It’s true, as adults perhaps its not as welcomed. There’s probably a fine invisible line of wonder we can express, but then after a certain point folks might start to scoot a little further from you.
Nature is incredibly healing and you might say it calls us to pay attention. Of course, there are plenty of people who head out for a hike or a snapshot of waterfalls who don’t really appreciate their surroundings.
Enjoyed your meanderings, and yes, keep pursuing that joy, wonder, and gratitude. xo
It’s funny to me how much of our curiosity we lose as we get older. As children we were always so full of why’s…and sadly that gets tempered as the years go by. It’s hard to pursue wonder or joy or love without that spark of curiosity. Thank you for your kind wishes. Although not meandering as far and wide as before, I am so grateful to be able to do any wanderings safely at this time. Wishing you well. 🥰
The details you wrote so well makes me feel like I was there walking along the path, said hello to the caterpillar and asked how is its day before reaching that breathtaking waterfall. I do think that the key to maintaining joy was to pursue it as you said. Seek and you shall find. Ask and you shall be given. Knock and the door shall open. That sort of thing 🙂
Indeed. Thank you for your lovely compliment. Pursuing delight is an act of noticing and this work is too often given up for other matters. May this find you healthy and joyful.
Oh this was such a lovely read. You described me on a hike, noticing sweet details of nature, and yet I’d not *recognized* my joy, not proclaimed it to myself the way you have. Oh. This is joy. This is delight. This is what I’m feeling. I will do that now. Even as I look out the living room window and delight at the new green leaves on the tree there I will now acknowledge the simple joy it fills me with. And look for more! Thank you.
You are most welcome Alison. It’s in naming an emotion that we often recognize it and you described the process so succinctly. Take care.
Nature has a way of bringing out the most wonderful insights. Joy does indeed exist right beside sadness and other darker emotions. It’s always right there in front of us, waiting so patiently for us to slow down and recognize it. Thank you for the reminder. 💚
This oneness of contrasting states is a realization that I still continue to grapple with…a recognition of oneness with the complex universe you continuously evoke in your own writing. Thank you for understanding me so well. 🥰
I continue to work with it as well.🙂 Thank you for sharing your joy.💕