The Case for Walking

Nowhere can you see the realness and the history of where you live better than by foot. You may drive a place every day but until your feet touch its soil, until your eyes stop looking straight ahead but off to the side where a wide set of steps rise like an upside down waterfall leading to a young man with an old school ‘fro texting his girl on the night before his college graduation- will you begin to know a place.

Until you notice just how many people plant rows and rows of lavender along the strip of land after their yard but before the street on the other side of the sidewalk- you won’t understand the generosity of your neighbors and the glory of bees on a summer day.

I passed the cemetery and for the first time realized that a leafy tree stands as a sentinel at the end of even rows of each line of headstones. The grass is exactly even but not mechanized like a modern place, it is still different shades of green from dark to light with some dried grass, yellow and stiff. The rows are more like paths inviting me to follow them and get to know the people who came before.

I found families, a husband who died twenty years before his wife. I kneeled before three headstones of three brothers who all died in different wars. Those people once also walked these streets.

Rounding through town I was stopped by a gaggle of young and lively guys with long dreadlocks and short little songs they busted out in bursts for me. “We’re the rainbow, join us!” I stayed awhile, talked about the Rainbow Gathering coming to Oregon, we talked about their dog and one guy told me I was beautiful. It was generous given that he was a lovely young guy with eyes as blue as any I’d seen.

Walking can boost your morale substantially.

I walked past bus stops and old homes. I saw some trash left by the steps of a stately old place which bragged of its 1888 lineage and I picked it up thinking, it  must be hard to see everything change around you.

I visited with a guy roughly my age carrying a backpack and sleeping bag. He looked clean and was sorting some food as he tucked it away. “It was a good day,” he said smiling. “I see that and I’m glad,” I tipped my head and smiled back. He was about to offer me some of his food but I walked on waving as I passed.

Strangers can be kind for no reason.

I also fell in love with an assorted group of dogs who ran to greet me like their long lost friend. Tails wagging, some singing sorrowful songs urging me to come back and I walked on and I remembered the joy of a good dog. I saw a woman cradling her little black and white dog coming from the vet and kissing the top of her furry head.

Love is so present in the world if you look.

I exchanged dozens of smiles with strangers, witnessed countless acts of awe among children seeing birds and flowers and I never once wished I was in a car despite the sweat which pooled at the back of my neck.

The best moment was in passing a girl, maybe seven or eight, wearing a crisp blue and white dress, a ribbon in her dark wavy hair and the smile on her innocent illuminated face that made years roll backwards to my second grade year. She stood at the top of the stairs outside her home while her grandmother sat smiling that same way on her porch. The girl began waving at strangers and smiling, for no particular reason. She ate an orange popsicle. As I approached the popsicle slipped off its stick into the grass. She observed but didn’t react choosing to continue her waving campaign.

Everything about her gave me hope. I asked if I could capture her picture and I did. I did not ask her a million questions like I might normally do. Frankly I didn’t want to know more than what I could see–the perfect mixture of light and love, innocence and care, playfulness and childish boredom.

If you walk enough you will get bored. Boredom is such a relief. Boredom doesn’t have technology attached or success or failure. It is expansive and allows you to fill it or feel it just as it is. I love boredom.

The case for walking is great. It is good for every part of you except your oh so busy schedule. So here’s the best case for it beyond all others–walk because you do not have time to do it. Break free of your calendar and make the room for walking and seeing and loving and speaking to strangers, and flirting and being bored.




What the Dragonfly Taught Me and Other Tales of the Pond

Near  a small pond where the breezes blow and the grasses grow, where the trees are never sad and the water sits still and clear Dragonfly came idling by. The color blue is the Master of the pool, not a blue like the sky or the ocean or your eye, not a blue like the sea or the stream but a blue like the hottest day there ever was and ice melting in your mouth blue, the kind of blue that is truer than anything could ever be, the kind of blue that holds us, me and you in the sky and the stars and the pond below, the kind of blue that always was, but never grew.

That is the color of Dragonfly as he flutters and lands with one knee bent on the very tip of a slice of long grass as it gently bows to let the Master land and stay and rest. Dragonfly sees his own heart and feels his own thoughts and knows that the light in the sky is the same as the light in his eye.

Where the water ends and the land begins, where perched just off the shore I sit waiting to see what will be, Dragonfly speaks, not with the words of me or birds who sing or caterpillars who grumble or rabbits who hurumpf but with the silence of mind and bigness of heart that doesn’t use words like the rest, but words that are silent and come through the Master and his feet, through the flutter of wing and tilt of head. He tells what needs to be said without really telling so much as Questioning:

“Who are you?”, says he.

A person with a name I suppose, now I am unsure. Who am I?

You cannot ask me.

Who shall I ask?

I will tell you but not today.

The grasshoppers hop and the birds stop and the lady bugs bug out. There is only Dragonfly and grass and water and sun so hot it catches small sparks around the Master’s feet. Not moved, not afraid nor excited, Dragonfly all the same. His eyes are blue and large with a sort of smile like someone who is already pleased by what you will say before you say it, like maybe he knows a great secret.  And he asks,

Why are you here?

I have come to sit by the pond

Is that what you are doing?

I am sitting, and listening, and talking and sometimes I am working here.

Then how can you be here if you are also there doing all those things?  I am feeling tired.

But, I am here, aren’t I?

Are you?

Then Dragonfly closes his eyes as the light fades from his frame, his feet curl and the sparks fall from his feet through the grass to the water below. Curled on the tip of a blade of grass so thin it could slide beneath the fingernail of an ant, the Master falls asleep, precisely as he is.

When he awakens he stretches and slowly raises his head,

Have you been watching me resting?”

“Just for a few minutes. You didn’t sleep long.”

“Yes, just long enough. Now I am awake.”

“While you were sleeping I started hearing more noises, things I didn’t hear before. Things like the sound of breeze on water and maybe even fish moving their fins. Is it true that I could hear that?”

“Did you hear it?”

“Yes, and more. I thought I heard a cricket land on a rock.”

“Then it’s true.”

“But how?”

“How could you not hear them? They are making sounds, you have ears. You can hear anything you want to, if you listen.”

“Can you hear everything-anything in the world?”

“I can only hear what’s here, here and now. Did you know a friend of mine just crossed the leaf on the ground beside you? The leaf which is orange and slightly brown, been tossed by the wind and down to the ground. It’s crackly and kind of itchy as she walks across its surface and it makes that small sound like a crunch of something crunchy when you crunch it. It cracks a little as she speeds with all six feet dashing. Did you hear her?”

“I think I might have.”

“Now you’re really here to hear.” Dragonfly smiles his wide smile with his whole body and his wings flutter.

“I don’t think I saw her though”


“Is that bad?”

“What is bad?”

“You know when you make a mistake, when things break, when you don’t get it right.”

“When you don’t get it right? Bad? Hmmmm, no. We don’t have that in Dragonfly, I am pretty sure, but I’ll check. Let me get one of my students to bring me the book.”

With that he turned his face toward the back of him, all the way around so that he could see to the other other side of the pond and I could see the small dot just at the spot on his head that met his neck from behind, that’s if Dragonfly had a behind part because all of him saw the same and heard the same. He spoke with his whole body and mind, so maybe there is no back on someone like that. Soon a smaller dragonfly flew by. Red with four red wings and a tinge of black around the edges so that she looked like a fire juggler or Flamenco dancer and she dropped a small package and kept going. I saw her wave as it fell.

“Oh yes”, said Dragonfly as he opened the book and began flipping pages, “Angelica is in a rush, late for her still class. Let me just….it must be in here somewhere. We have translated most languages into Dragonfly, you see. Yes, yes. Here it is–bad. No that can’t be it, surely you don’t think you’re defective for missing the site of my little ladybug friend? That cannot be so, is it?”

“Sort of.”

“Oh my goodness, dear one. Certainly not! Can you stay perfectly still, that means do not move, not at all, and I will tell you a story?”


“One time I had a friend who kept a small piece of land where he had a farm. Now most dragonflies like to travel around but this friend had a new idea. Anyway, one day he woke up and all his food was gone, apparently washed out to the lake in a fierce storm. His friends came to him and asked him if he was okay. He said,” of course”.  Our farmer dragonfly sat above the storm tossed lake on his grass watch tower and waited. The rain finally stopped, the farm dried and it turned out that not only did the storm push his food back to him but it brought extra. His friends came to him again and asked if he was happy, he said, “of course”.  We never know what will happen next, we only know what happens now. If the farmer had used your word, “bad” about the storm he would not be right. He waited and watched and sure enough it worked out. We cannot always tell how things will work out or when, but they will. So there is no need for your word “bad” in our language. You did not see my ladybug friend. It is just that, of course. Perhaps you will see her another time, perhaps not. She is not concerned. Why are you?”

“I like this hearing things and I would like to see things too. I feel disappointed that I did not see her.”

“Do you see me?”

“Yes. “

“Then you see things. Even when there is nothing to see, you see that. Ladybug is not here now. Can you see what is here?”


Good. Then you see perfectly well.”

Then he flew away. He did not say good-bye or see you later or any of the things we say to each other so I did not know, would I see him later? Would it be good-bye? I could not know so I gave up asking.

It rained at the pond the next day. The rain carries many secrets about things you cannot know unless you look. It’s not just water, so we need a raincoat. It is falling from above then going down below echoing through the pond and deep into the ground for thirsty fields growing good things. When the rain stops, the fish relax from their frenzy of dashing about trying to catch the bugs that scurry above the surface flying this way and that, some seeking cover others seeking things to eat.  And also when the rain stops falling, the birds begin their work of digging up worms who dig deeper to hide from them and til the soil sweetly. The water begins to make steam which goes back up to the sky so more can fall another day. The trees and plants drink it through the straws they have beneath them and the mushrooms are happy because they are friends to trees and they come to them whenever they are sick. Trees who have plenty to drink and no one to hurt them are happy- indeed.

As the rain stopped and the steam rose and the fish napped and the worms shivered and the dragonflies shook off their wings, I ran across a rabbit, quite black and small and fuzzy.

Oh rabbit, would you have time to talk?”

I wondered if rabbit could be friends and chat too since I could hear different things like the words of  Dragonfly.

He thumped and grunted and looked but only for a second. I heard something like a voice but not quite, more like a feeling of hearing and this is what it sounded like, “I hardly think so. I have six hungry children to feed, a new bathroom to make and storing up some food for later. Unless you’re going to do all that for me, then most certainly I don’t have time to talk.”

Then I thought back, “ I see, but no need to be grumpy about it.”

Sorry friend, just rushed. Perhaps another time, just not this moment.”

One minute later which is the kind of minute that goes fast. It’s because you are looking at things like how water falls from a leaf on a tree. Here’s how that leaf looked; like a bright green with lines of an even lighter color. Sunlight coming through so it’s very bright, water from the rain, which has now stopped, stays on the leaf  until it falls clear like a rounded bubble with the whole world reflected in it. It is so full of colors just before it slides off the leaf as if it is parachuting.  It’s that feeling when you can only think these things because you don’t have room in your head anymore, it is too full of water and leaves and dirt and animals. Then it has been a minute but it doesn’t feel like any time has happened at all. It’s not the kind of minute when you are waiting for dinner and you’re hungry or wishing school would end because you have a new bike, not that slow minute but a fast minute because you are looking and seeing and your thoughts are where you are. Exactly in that spot. That is the minute that passed before rabbit came bounding out of his fort underground and sat directly in front of me.

What did you wish to discuss? He spoke this by wiggling his nose, flattening his ears and giving a gentle sniff my way.

I wanted to know what it’s be a rabbit?

I’m certain I couldn’t say. I’ve never been anything else. It’s hard to know what it’s like to be you–since it’s the only you you have. 

I suppose that’s true. I had never thought of it that way before.

What if I do everything you do–then maybe I could tell.

Rabbit turned his head slightly, trying to figure out how it would work, then scratching behind one ear he said,

well alright, give it a try.

He hoped down the path on all fours, so I did. He ate grass and I did it too. I didn’t feel more rabbity than before though. I felt more like me because I was acting like a rabbit which isn’t me. Maybe that’s a way to know how it feels to be you.
















The Rabbit and the Zen Student

She is small, opinionated and righteous. One toe over the line and you’ll not see her until she is good and damn ready.

Her sense of propriety is pious and inflexible. She is not particularly affectionate and does not care how that makes anyone feel. She belongs to her and her soul is unconquerable.

She’s met others who have had the thought that she could be someone’s pet–but that’s not now nor ever going to be in her future.

Melanie is the most unapologetic and unbending sort you’ll meet. She is emotionally impeccable. She has absolutely no time for anything not entirely authentic. Melanie is a 2.5 pound min-rex rabbit and she is, according to the literature about most folks of her same breeding, and I quote, “bad ass.”

Being tiny, silky, black and cute as hell is of zero concern to her. She doesn’t bother with outward appearances.

Melanie has taken every ounce of Zen practice within me and challenged it. She eats shoes, furniture and base boards. If she is invited into my bedroom she will sit primly at the end of my bed and just when I’m feeling like we’re friends she’ll excuse herself and use my closet as a litter box.

Melanie gives “zero fucks,” as people say these days to describe an independent anti hero.

I wrote to behaviorists and tried to take her back to her former home–but alas no relief. Until in a full bodied sulk I said, “I am so tired of failing.” That’s when it came to me, “So don’t!” I dug deeper, read more, observed more and realized my implicit bias toward those who walk on paws and live with me. I consider them “pets”. I took this to mean they are supposed to want to please me, be delighted to see me every time I come home and be well, emotionally needy.

Rabbits are not in this category.

Rabbits are fierce, strongly opinionated and most certainly have a protocol and little patience for those who can’t “read the room” to figure it out.

I appreciate her strength and I admire it now that I’ve taken the time to stop reacting and start observing.

So now I am done trying to make her a dog or me a “pet owner.” Like most non human animals, her wisdom is superior. I’d rather be friends with a complicated and mysterious creature than “own a pet” any day of the week.

I’d also prefer to learn something from my relationships and she is an excellent teacher of patience, slowing down, finding stillness and being mindful in action. She is, in short, a Zen Master. In fact, all dressed in black with some powerful and careful kicks she may as well be a ninja too.

So I find if I provide her space and respect, she’ll come over and see me. Often she likes to just relax spread out on the living room rug while I meditate or read or write. So we have our odd little Sangha and we’re working through our issues. Wait–take that back–I’m working through my issues. Mel has no issues. She’s a rabbit being a rabbit.

I have gated the living room to preserve what’s left of my couch and she’s not spending time in my room because a closet can handle only so much. But I’m also buying her favorite greens like a dutiful friend and boxes have become Melanie toys rather than receptacles. But all relationships take work and creativity, right?

Trust me, I’ve had more than one friend suggest I “get rid of her.” But I don’t think life can be so simple. Sometimes lovers will disappoint, children will forget holidays,parents will fail to be available and friends will be caught up in their own lives. Sometimes our bodies will fall apart and our minds will get caught in some unhealthy or forgetful loop but this is all part of it. If we give up on one thing–more things are sure to follow.

If Zen has taught anything by its stoic practice, it is that the small things are large and the things we think are important are often not even the point. A couch or shoe is nothing in comparison to the patience and caring love takes.