My husband and I went kayaking last weekend and being out on the water again was deeply soothing. There were the wild swans, the huge bald eagle nest (with juvenile in it), Great Blue Herons and assorted ducks of course, always wonderful to see. Then the smaller, no less wonderful observations- the snapper swimming just below the surface, the thousands of iridescent damselflies and dragonflies, a clump of wild iris hiding behind cattails, curled feathers floating by. I am planning to train Lifa to be in the kayak with me to share this peaceful drifting and observing. Casey used to go with me and would sit watching the world go by as we bobbed on gentle currents. She would nose the air, picking up the smell of water and all the scents it carries with it (quite a lot in fact). It wasn’t on land and she wasn’t in a car, I can only guess how this altered her perception of what was around her. From what I could tell, she enjoyed it. I know I did. I hope Lifa will too, if she decides she likes changing her view of things it will be one more special thing we can share (Quinn and Piper just like swimming too much to stay in the boat). But there is nothing quite like bearing witness to the life going on around you and having a skipper to share that with. It is all about perception, which can often shift perspective leading other aspects of life to become more of a calm, attentive exploration.
One of the stranger training sessions I had with my first search team involved old bones being scattered in a dirt parking lot and we had to locate them. It is fascinating what the mind does when asked to do something odd, it either “doesn’t see” the objects or decides they are something else, a piece of wood or cardboard. Because, after all, it isn’t every day you are asking your brain to find bones in a parking lot. As one of my tracking instructors is fond of saying “you have to learn to see what is there not what you think is there”. This is most definitely a learned skill for most of us, we have lost the art of seeing what is before us, details, subtleties and nuances that would have informed our ancestors many generations ago what the landscape had to tell them. Therefore, it is quite possible to walk right past human remains because your mind, needing to label things in a context that makes sense, decided it looked like a pile of leaves and not a plaid lumberjack shirt. It takes a fair amount of practice to start re-mapping how you see the world, in that sense it is like meditation. Your mind needs to be quiet and calm, open yet attentive.
I think of all the skills I had to learn in doing search work, learning to “see what is there” tops the list as the one skill that has had the most impact in every aspect of my life. Navigation being a close second. As you re-wire your brain towards focused mindfulness something magical happens, “there’s a hell of a good universe” out there for those who learn to pay attention. Once you start that process your way of thinking changes, your perceptions, your instincts and ultimately – your way of moving through your world. Partner that with solid navigation skills and you are never going to be confused, caught off guard or lost again – physically or existentially.
Well, most of the time…
I am still shattered by the loss of Casey, but I see aspects of her in Lifa and feel like she is still with us. I still miss my Da, but the peace and openness I feel when hiking brings him close. He was an avid hiker when he was a young man and I inherited that from him. I need to hike and be in the wild as much as I need oxygen. The losses are what throw me in life, but the rest…incidental, annoying details of a world reduced to soundbytes, pixels, noise, opinions and free floating angst – not so much.
When you have learned to see what is there naturally your interpretation of what is there will be correct. For me this has been profound and very grounding. Life has not ceased hurling curve balls at me, or being whimsical, infuriating or just downright ridiculous, but I can read it for what it is and make decisions accordingly. You learn how to navigate your way out of the maelstrom and find the quiet, secret spaces. There’s a hell of a good universe next door, just around the bend in the trail, just over that ridge, or deep into that estuary… so let’s go!