11:30am. I’m at a miniature picnic table in the autumn sun and breeze at Pandapas Pond outside of Blacksburg, Virginia. My knees hit the underside of the tabletop’s planks, but the wooden bench is warm, and I don’t mind that the table is the proper height for children rather than adults.
Wind rustles leaves around me, and stems of tiny white asters sway on the other side of the table, between me and the glimmering pond. The September light is sharp and warm. Canada geese paddle on the pond’s surface, and their honks echo off the surrounding hills of the basin. Smaller birds twirrup in the trees, and insects buzz and whir.
On the grey splintered wood by my notebook is a tiny dry pine needle, the color of tobacco. It’s not long like the loblolly needles of the coastal southeast, but is a much shorter needle, maybe an inch long, like it fell from a tree in a dollhouse yard.
The sky is cornflower blue with brilliant white clouds, and when one passes over the sun, I feel the temperature drop. I’m chilly in the shadow of the cloud despite a long-sleeved shirt, jeans, and brown leather boots. I want the sun to warm my face and my shoulders again.
Across the pond are a few golden trees but the hillsides are still mostly green. Brocolli mountains, our son calls them. A bush at my knee has lost its leaves, and its bare branches sparkle with red berries the size of pomegranate seeds. Asters like periwinkle stars spray the edges of the footpath around the pond, and in the clear air, I hear the crunch of a jogger’s pace on crushed gravel in the woods. When the wind settles and the leaves stop rattling, I hear the hum of bees in the wildflowers around my picnic table.
A summer green skin coats the surface of the pond at its edges. I can’t see from here whether it’s algae or lily pads. It is strange to know that in a few months the pond’s hills will be bristled with naked trees that are brown and twiggy rather than full and lush in golds and greens. The pond itself will be frozen, encrusted in white-grey ice instead of green life. The geese tell me that time is coming as they chase each other across the pond, splashing and honking and just being present here on their way to someplace warm.
The sound of winged creatures has reached a crescendo: small birds and large geese, grasshoppers and bees and cicadas have stirred each other up, twittering and honking and chirruping and buzzing, and my ears ring with a cacophony that ricochets off the water’s skin and the surrounding mountains. Within a minute they settle down though, and now I only hear the chirp of insects like summer twilight.
The wind has stilled completely and silent gnats have found me. They’re caught in my hair, coating the lenses of my glasses, creeping into the corners of my eyes. It’s time to get up and move.
I’m not very good at sitting and just being. With a pen in my hand, though, I am forced to experience my surroundings. The act of writing, the act of describing, helps me sense the world and pay attention. I don’t think this is the “right” way to meditate, but it’s the way it works for me.