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Elan Vitae


  • Shena Driscoll Salvato


I step out at night, look up at the star-filled sky while being serenaded by a chorus of freshly awakened frogs in their summer home by the pond, and there it is, pouring its abundance down on me: the Big Dipper, right over head. It regularly caught my attention low on the horizon, toward the east, when the world was still and dark and cold, when the stars were masked by low, grey skies, when the hills beyond were visible through the barren trees. But now, as all my senses are ablaze with the abundance of colors, textures, sounds, and smells of life returning, it’s as if the Big Dipper is pouring its soul-quenching energy right over my head, urging me, “Refresh yourself, drink up, you can’t take too much, there’s plenty.”

Each new entry to summer feels like forever and a flash at the same time, and leaves me breathless with awe. I’m astounded by how new it feels each time, although I now have a half century of experiencing this uniquely mortal change. What a gift for it to always feel new, and always better than the last. The colors, textures, and sounds all call to me in unison, demanding my attention but unattached at the same time—how wonderfully egoless nature is. The purple of the Redbud trees, in their delicate, intricate patterns, move me to tears in their fleeting beauty. How could I have forgotten that they would return? This small window of time before the green leaves take over and render their host indistinguishable from all their neighbors is, indeed, a precious time to be alive.

Each year, I forget that our home is framed in the east corner by the brilliant white buds of a cherry tree and in the west by the flaming yellow of a wild, unwieldy Forsythia, both bursting onto the scene at the very same time. They’re the first to flash their colors as the grass softens and grows lush and tender and fast, dotted with eager yellow dandelions that hide their faces when the stars come out, and delicate white flowers of the wild strawberries that whisper their greetings on the path to the pond, planting seeds of anticipation for the months ahead, luring me along. My hunger to feel the grass is insatiable and my indulgence in her surprisingly warm softness leaves me not full, but only wanting more. Being open to noticing, experiencing, and appreciating these gems of human existence requires the type of agility I don’t initially think of: being mentally alert. No matter how mentally over-occupied I tend to be at this time of year, and how much time and energy I know is required for what I’ve committed myself to, this surrounding abundance of flora and fauna lures me out of my head, into my senses, and back to the earth. I feel as phototropic as my gifted potted epiphyte, whose leaves bend to the sun through the unobstructed window pane. Just as it has had to become in its transplanted northern home, far from its place of origin high in an equatorial canopy, competing for dappled light through the ubiquitous dense, lush green, it’s the epitome of the definition of flexible I don’t often think of: responsive to change. In this microcosm whirlwind of change, I step back and realize that it’s just the return of the same process that was here many times before, the same process that will return once again—always the same yet always different. Swiftly approaching an era of great change, with once-babies growing and stretching toward their own new sources of light, I find comfort in the novelty and revelry of rebirth of the same trees. Even in one season’s ending, a new season ushers in the wonders of the familiar we had lost sight of during those cold, dark, silent moments, the discovery of newness in something so dear. There are so many things I want to remember from this precious human experience; while I feel compelled to stop adding to it, the list only grows, but there doesn’t have to be an end to it. There isn’t a limited amount of space to house these memories. The list can’t be too long; there’s space for it all, just like that network of stars surrounding the Big Dipper, somehow making it stand out from them all, as if it’s the only constellation in the sky.

One of the most gratifying things about embracing flexibility and agility is bending time, feeling the circular nature of a day and not being restricted by the time-bound, linear, start-to-finish artificial perception of it. I need to remember this when I think back to my babies’ peach-fuzz heads against my cheek, their sweet, warm breath against my neck. Even now, even today, basking in the deliciousness of the energy from the awakening around me to create this time for creativity, it’s the most urgent and important thing I can’t say no to. Flexibility calls me to say yes to the things that breathe life into me; agility gives me to strength and deftness to say no to those things that could deplete me. I thank the stars I won’t let them. After being lulled to sleep by the chorus of frogs, the morning birdsong breaks the fast of the deep night’s silence, and I feast on it, awakening before dawn, not sleepy, but energized by the possibility of bearing witness to those luminous white clouds in the valley below, reflecting the morning’s sun against the fresh, blue sky, calling me, “Listen: allow yourself to bend toward the light, and receive something glorious from the least expected, but most familiar.”

Photo credit:  Image by Zoltán Kalmár from Pixabay


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