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Elan Vitae


  • Shena Driscoll Salvato


Sunlight has a way of making magic of the otherwise ordinary—the tops of the trees illuminated by the glow of the rising sun, the morning crystals of ice on a dormant bud, the baffling definition of a cumulous cloud. This fleeting show of beauty necessitates pause. Wait a few seconds, and it will be gone, never again to be seen in that exact form. It, though, is unattached; it doesn’t care if we see it or not. If we’re willing to be present to receive them, we’re the fortunate beneficiaries of light’s unlimited, unexpected gifts.

Gift 1: To give light

When a second day dawned as I was in labor with my youngest child, the month before the arrival of spring, the light seemed to have changed that very morning. It had been a long, cold winter. Birthing at home, I had the gift of bearing witness to the familiar, but in slow motion. As the sun rose in the sky and my body surrendered to the rushes of preparation required for my son to enter the world, it was as if I could see the ground drinking in the snow, see the texture change. Rise and fall, rise and fall. Just as to give birth in Spanish, dar la luz, directly translates to to give the light, as I was about to give light to him, Earth gave the energy and promise of light to me.

Gift 2: To light the way

Returning home through the stand of pines at dusk, I suddenly realize how dark it has become. My leisurely walk to the edge of the ridge was bright with dappled sunlight through the leafless branches, but now, my eyes have to adjust to the waning light. Just when I think about resorting to an artificial light to help me navigate the tangled roots and mossy ruts, the remnants of winter’s snow reflect what light is left in the evening sky to guide my way. This last bit of snow, nowhere to be found on the south-facing slopes, leads me home, just as the daisies reflect the moonlight and gift me with a glowing path as I walk on a summer's night, barefoot from the pond.

Gift 3: To highlight what’s important

Spring in the northeast brings intention front and center, like a bridge suspended above glowing, algae-covered water below. The things I had intended to do, during what I had anticipated to be a cold, slow winter, void of the temptations of balmy air, alluring sounds, and fragrant breezes, sit quietly on my tattered, faded list. The winter was warmer and faster than I could have anticipated. Where has the time gone? Along with the urgency to close those loops arise fresh intentions for a new season, when days are lengthened by Earth’s tilt and I can once again walk barefoot in the grass, albeit still dry and brown, but without my feet becoming numb from the cold. Why have I accomplished so much not on my list, but so little on it? Contrary to the 80/20 rule of working more in something than on it to make progress, I find, in the new spring reflections and shadows, how much I’ve been working on and how little I’ve been working in. While the days lengthen and there’s less of a draw to the wood stove and more of a draw to see what life has reawakened and returned near the pond, more daylight doesn’t necessarily equate to more time. Those new intentions find their way to a fresh, uncreased sheet of paper by way of bright, new ink. My lists have merged, like two creeks carrying the season’s snowmelt at the rushing juncture of a river.

Gift 4: To remind us of our own light

A fire, without tending and the right conditions, is just a smoldering, smokey pile of logs. What’s there needs to be adjusted. Space needs to be created. It needs the right amount of air. Once its potential is optimized, like magic, it bursts into flame. It’s not a gradual transition, but a strikingly sudden one, most often with a stubborn fire that’s not been responding to the tender’s interventions, one that the tender had almost given up on. Just as the fire in the wood stove only glows and dances with its orange and yellow flames in these prime conditions, maybe this is what I need most in this time of transition—to optimize my own fuel, to be as efficient yet as giving as I can be—inviting fresh air to breathe and room to adjust my limbs to optimize my potential.

Gift 5: To bring out the light in us

This returning light of spring brings me back to the moments when light has stopped me in my tracks, fleetingly reminding me of the proof of my human existence: a cold shadow with pregnant belly cast in the glittering snow of former clouds, a warm shadow with toned body in the burnt orange dust of former grand arches and in the glowing algae of former sunlight. With the help of the light, my shadow is much larger than I am in human form. I stand to witness myself in each of those singular moments at those exact locations on Earth, still. My shadow is cast by the light on me, but is appreciated by the light in me. What can I learn from these plays of shadow and light? To not take myself so damn seriously? To balance the in and on like the light and dark of yin and yang? To be easy on myself, friend. To be forgiving. To invite time to bend just as the moon reflected on the pond’s summer surface flickered like the inextinguishable flame of a candle and left me mesmerized, floating, cradled by the chorus of frogs under the canopy of stars. This new season will come and go all too soon, but the most can be made of it. As Earth gives birth to this new season of INtentiON, let’s allow the light on us to bring out the light in us.

Photo credit: Shena Driscoll Salvato


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