The daily dilemma

The Buddha practiced walking meditation on the banks of the Neranjara River. That muddy water is just an out of focus memory now—years since I forded the warm, shallow river by foot on my little pilgrimage to the Mahakala Caves. These days I practice on the banks of the Truckee River, which is cold and clear and far away as can be.

There’s a path through a patch of wild roses that I like to pace. No flowers this time of year, but a good path— well worn— between two ponderosa pines.

My foot rocks from heel to toe in a slow arc. Sun on the front of my legs, the back of my legs are cold. Sun on the back of my legs, the front of my legs are cold.

I tell myself, “when walking just walk,” but I was raised by devoted birdwatchers.

It’s always something. I hear a red-tailed hawk cry above me and try not to look up. Try not to look for her shadow either. I hear a jay and try to discern—scrub or Steller’s? Twenty steps, turn, twenty steps, turn.

Mid-turn I glance up, and my eye catches on two mergansers swimming upstream. Their heads are below the surface, scanning for something good to eat. They are joined by a third, and overhearing the little barks of their private conversation gives me a thrill.

How can it be enough to make the mental note, “hearing?” How can I resist running upstream with them? I need to know what else they might have to say.  

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