Illustration: The Magazine of Yoga
BY MAGAZINE COLUMNIST JOANNA HELLER
Inspired by the first warmth of the season, I went out driving the other day to try to find the “big rock” of my childhood. The place where, many years before I’d ever heard the words yoga or zazen, I sat. No big deal. I just sat. It was the most natural thing in the world, to just be, there on the rock in the sun.
The days were unending barefoot days and being present was easy.
It turns out that that place isn’t all that far from where I live now. The feeling, however is. Finding the feeling is another matter. Jon Kabat-Zinn says “Wherever you go, there you are.” Well, yes and no. Definitely true for our baggage. It is always “there” …
Barefoot summer days
Out in front of the barn red Sears Roebuck cottage, our little crowd of cousins would stand around watching grandma cut vegetables, wash dishes or wash clothes in a bucket while the yellow jackets buzzed around the pans of soapy water.
We’d cross the meadow to the dirt floor red barn and stand there entranced with the damp smell of the dirt, the big and small tools of building and gardening, and the old Model T Ford that got cranked into life once or twice a summer.
Down off the road approaching the house were the wild grape vines which, by late summer would be heavy with Concord grapes, grapes with a tough tart skin, then an incredible ring of sweetness and then a shock of tartness in the center. We would suck out the sweetness and spit out the tartness.
We had a little two bedroom cottage at the front edge of the meadow. My cousins’ house at the other end of the meadow was the grand one, the one with a front porch.
There was an artesian well with a long handled pump outside for our water, and a rain barrel for outdoor showers. We had no electricity and our evenings were a little while of kerosene lamp light and then to bed, a narrow canvas army cot.
We lived with the hours of sun and the hours of dark.
A season of wild berries and salamanders
We grew plum tomatoes, scallions, round red radishes and long thin white ones, leaf lettuce, and corn. My uncle Ralph’s garden was always the big one – a field of corn. We picked wild strawberries and blueberries. My father taught us which were blackberries and which were black raspberries and how to recognize poison ivy. We learned about things arriving in their season.
On rainy days, we hunted salamanders. We’d gather as many as we could find and use shoe boxes padded with moss and rocks to make little homes for them. We wanted them to be happy in there but they pretty quickly found their way out.
We had no car in those days. We’d leave our Bronx apartment before dawn, taking the IRT, then the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad, then a bus and lastly hiking several miles up Mountain Road my mother carrying our bags with lunch – hard boiled eggs and fruit.
Spacious as the sun on a big rock
Our old country place is now just another NYC suburb with large homes, constructed lawns and paved driveways. It is one more busy route in and out of NYC – people hurrying in and out every day driving, computing, phoning, texting, today’s high speed stuff.
That is now. But then it was a child’s endless time and space. We could sit. We could stay. Our baggage was light. I did not know of yoga or meditation then, but now when I sit on my mat, sometimes I can feel those still moments on the big rock in the sun. And I can return to that spaciousness.
Those big days and long weeks of summer and … who knew it would turn out to be so ephemeral. All that time and space in the world to just be present.
We’ve had a touch of warm sunny days now, just a taste, and I’m grabbing at them. They are not endless.
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© 2011, The Magazine of Yoga, LLC.