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Seeking Delight

ColunbiaGorge-scenery-BTHushed 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.  

Columbia-Gorge-forest-BT“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. 

Columbia-Gorge-flower-BTOutside 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. 

ColumbiaGorge-waterfall-BTAt 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?

102 replies »

  1. Joy/happiness is a decision. It’s been a quest of mine for several years. Making the choice to be happy. Unhappiness and negativity is a lot easier to attract. No need to even think about it really. Once people realize that they need to consciously decide to find joy in all they do and embrace the negativity to understand that it’s a lesson to learn that will lead to joy would make life better for all.

    • I’m learning to embrace the wide range of emotions I’ve been gifted with and doing the active work of parsing out the lessons they offer. Thanks for sharing your take on this post.

  2. Well, I’d say this is a wonderful way of sharing your delights, feelings, and experiences. You’re on the right path towards abandonment of the “clinging to my private joys like hoarded treasure, cynical anyone else will participate in my passions.” 🙂

    You are such a true, passionate, expressive, and eloquent writer! I could feel being in your head and heart. It’s similar to being in mine – oh, the joys of the small things delivered by Mother Nature when going for a walk in the forest. Yes, I should pause more often as well and appreciate the beauty, share the discoveries.

    Unfortunately, I usually hike with someone who is not only fast and averse to stopping often and taking photos, but who walks to get exercise… Yes, I need to go out by myself more often and allow myself to stare in wonder at the beauty all around us.

    • 😁 Haha…yes, you definitely need to go for walks by yourself or with someone who will love to pause and slow walk with you. Thank you for such marvelous praise…noticing the small details of the world around me continues to be one of my main joys and one I will hopefully continue to share with others.

  3. Bonjour Bespoke Traveler, quel bonheur de lire votre texte accompagnant vos magnifiques photos. La nature est si belle qu’il faut en profiter pleinement. Les chutes d’eau sont de toute beauté.

  4. What a beautiful peace on finding the joy in every day life, objects, nature…the key to maintaining joy is to pursue it. Brilliant insight. I shall endeavour to actively pursue joy henceforth. Bravo!

  5. I loved what you said about taking stock of joys and making room for more. Perfect! Your observations made me keen to do a little exploring on my own, which I will do early tomorrow morning. Thanks for this. 🙂

    • Thank you, kindly. And because we are not in that world yet, it is flourishing this season. Skies are bluer, water is cleaner, and landscapes are seeing the return of so much wildlife. I hope this finds you safe and well, Charlotte!

  6. I love your vivid descriptions’ keen to every rustle’, ‘hidden rivulets,’ ‘understory in shades of black’ and topaz,’ filigreed delicacy … I could go on, but then I would just be rewriting your wonderful prose.

    It was your’ what gives me joy’ statement that shouted at me the loudest. It is a question I know the answer to at a macro level (sailing around the world), but at the micro-level, I had to think about it a bit. And as I did, the list started to grow exponentially. In the end, I came to your conclusion that [in this lifetime] the more incidents I stopped to savor, the wider became my scope of delights. Such wisdom in your statement that the way to maintain joy is to pursue it …and when sadness arises, to allow those kernels of joy to prevail with it side by side.

    • Thank you Lisa. I continue to struggle with allowing myself to live in that space where everything sits side by side…joy and terror and grief. But, I am trying to learn. And the little steps of progress I make towards that complexity make me want to move forward. Hoping you are well.

  7. There was a time when I worked at a company where ‘joy’ was imposed — we all had to create joy to maintain a positive atmosphere in our workplace. But what really happened was most of us acted joyfully just to please the boss and made their lives easier. This made me realize that joy is very personal, and it can’t be forced. It can only be felt. What creates joy for one person can do quite the opposite to another. In a time filled with great uncertainties like today, we can help ourselves by pondering about all the things, big and small, that bring us joy, and how to maintain them in a post-pandemic world.

    • How awful working there must have been! Emotional manipulation is such a dangerous weapon humans have at their disposal. I feel fortunate to have found genuine pleasure, instead, in being able to share in the diverse joys of fellow bloggers and travelers like you. And I know that moving forward we will continue to connect in these valuable ways. Take care!

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