ON STEPPING OUTSIDE
Everyone should befriend a poet.
To do so—to befriend any artist, really—is to pass through a doorway from the predictable patterns of civilization to the untamable mystery of nature. It is to become conscious of nature’s sensuous expressions, to be awakened in awe—to become aware of beauty in even the smallest measures of time. It is to learn gratitude. It is to see with new eyes.
I met one poet over a typewriter.
The setting was a staff Christmas party. I was dressed in pajamas and a robe. The introduction concluded with my having a freshly-pressed original poem in my hands.
Two years later, in the present, she “the Poet” helps me navigate the tight labyrinthine streets of San Francisco. I am driving us west from Mission over hills to Sunset district. The vessel is my grandfather’s “boat,” a 1985 Lincoln Town Car. Its engine is robust and responsive, but the car’s secondary features are falling apart. It is probably one of the worst cars to drive in a congested city in the rain. It proved to be a perfect portent.
On the road, the rain dissipates, leaving a grey cloud canopy.
'Once I took off my shoes, my feet began to wake up, to grow strong, and become springs. I became aware and in doing so became light nimble, and far more efficient.' Michael Sandler
We drive on to Fort Funston National Park. Once parked, the Poet suggests we leave our shoes in the car. I happily comply, thinking of Michael Sandler’s Barefoot Running: Once I took off my shoes, my feet began to wake up, to grow strong, and become springs. I became aware and in doing so became light, nimble, and far more efficient.
Feet are too often an under-appreciated asset of the human body. This oversight was true for me until I suffered a series of foot injuries from backpacking the Pacific Crest Trail and running my first marathon. I have since taken a great interest in the mechanics and potential of feet. So the next time you wiggle your toes, be sure to look down and say, “Thank you.”
It begins to rain again.
Undeterred, the Poet and I ignore signs warning of cliff erosion, and step carefully down to Funston Beach. A passing fisherman asks for the time. Watching him walk away, the Poet wonders if he is a corporate man seeking solitude—solitude in his faded layers and rubber boots with fishing rod, tackle, and bait at hand. Looking down, we wonder at the pure black sand, digging into it with our toes.
The Poet and I soak our feet in the cool Pacific tide, not yet ready to depart, all the while forgetting the boisterous urban sprawl laboring for existence a mile away. Standing on the Funston Beach beneath the gaze of crumbling sandy cliffs, we could be anywhere. The demands of San Francisco and the Silicon Valley are merely a fading echo.
There is so much beauty in the rain, in the quiet—nurtured by nature outside man’s inventions.
'People are lonely. The network is seductive. But if we are always on, we may deny ourselves the rewards of solitude.' Sherry Turkle
I suspect that most people can recognize beauty, but wonder how many are truly grateful for it. Some call it stillness, others solitude. Many find the notion and practice too unsettling. How many cherish its intimacy? The need for solitude does not necessarily mean that one needs to be alone, though that is healthy at times. It is more about perspective, not only for the senses, but the deepest part of being.
Civilization, like technology, though valuable and remarkable, can be a costly distraction.
In the culmination of decades of research, Sherry Turkle writes, “We remake ourselves and our relationships with each other through our new intimacy with machines. . . . People are lonely. The network is seductive. But if we are always on, we may deny ourselves the rewards of solitude.”
On that day outside San Francisco, I was reminded of the refreshment available in shared stillness; that the entropy of nature is not quite the same as that of civilization. A fallen tree offers a different lesson than a condemned house, the broken branch a different story than a broken car lever. It is not necessarily about being an artist, or even being a friend to one; though art provides valuable reminders. It is about fostering awareness of the many gifts that life offers, attentive to the refreshment available in uncultivated lands—in quiet natural spaces.
Yet be warned: “It’s a dangerous business . . . going out of your door . . . You step into the Road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to.” J. R. R. Tolkien - The Fellowship of the Ring.
Adventure demands courage. It requires patience. You may come home tired. That is the nature of beauty, however. That is the nature of growth.
So here’s to more of us stepping outside together.
by J.D. Grubb