I keep thinking about the second straight day of rain in Lituya Bay, my e-reader smashed, my phone low on charge, solar panel not helpful in the gray. Nothing to do and nowhere to go.
At home, downtime is laced with guilt. I can read in the sunshine, but I could also put in more hours for work. I could be making dinner, cleaning, researching house renovations. I could go for a walk, listen (usually 2–3x speed) to one of my audiobooks. I could put in more time with one of the activist orgs, finish a blog idea. And I’m doing grad school one class at a time, so I probably have homework I could be working on.
“Could” feels a lot like “should”. I don’t even drink coffee, and I’m jittery.
Up here, there’s been nothing but time. At the Sunnyside cabin, we could go on this or that hike, or not. Can’t take the boat out; it’s high and dry, and it’s three hours until the tide comes back up. Throw another log on the fire, find another book to read.
But with no book? No fire? No kitchen?
I wanted to save some charge in my phone, since it’s also my camera, so I deliberately powered it off, cutting off the middle of the book I was reading.
“Okay,” I told myself, “anything I can think of to do, I’m going to take as long as possible.”
Slowly, deliberately, I extricated myself from my sleeping bag. I dry-toweled between every one of my toes before putting on my socks. One article at a time, I drew on my outdoor layers, raingear, boots.
At our tarp shelter, I sat on the moss and unbraided one of my long french pigtails, finger combed it, rebraided it. Then the other. With effort, I can stretch that to take half an hour. I made sure to pause and watch the otter rolling in the waves.
I counted breaths, following the air from the outside, flowing, throat, chest, belly, floating out. Twenty breaths, enough time to feel calm or to pause and realize what comes next.
Go into the woods and gather small sticks, scrape pitch into a clamshell to prepare to start a fire. Sit on the wet rocks of the beach, slowly shaving curls of wood from a branch into my pile of tinder.
Watch the sky, the sea creatures, my own hands, pass calmly through time.
I’m sitting now in seat 18C of a 737, wondering how much of that slow time I can bring home with me: lost count of days, long hours with friends and family and food, fire and bread and books.
My next class starts Monday, and I’m back to work, too. But I have bees to keep me held to the seasons’ rhythms, family trying a first honey harvest back home today. I have cats to draw me out of a focus and into a moment. The garden will be full of new green things to tend.
Over the last year and a half I’ve missed the company of big close gatherings of friends. The world has turned a leaf in the month I’ve been gone; I think we can start to host again. It’s wonderful, but frightening: can we hold onto our quiet space? Can I remember what time is like when nothing is rushing into it?
In my depression, time with nothing in it was a yawning abyss. My mind would spiral down, and my worth spiraled with it: a lack of interest, an utter pointlessness. I could be saved by the need to attend a meeting, could at least be allayed by forcing my eyes to move over a page. But I could not afford the quiet.
I used to whisper to myself in crisis: I am in chrysalis — something to grasp with slipping fingers, an attempt to believe.
But I’ve been all right for a while now, just holding on to filled time. So the moment on the beach — a long, multi-hour moment — felt like the shedding of a husk.
I’m all right. My mind can hold a silence. Finally, I have remembered how to breathe.
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