I walked in the bathroom yesterday and found some new potpourri my wife had put in a basket on the counter. Wow, that's pretty, I thought in passing before brushing my teeth with a plastic toothbrush and then walking out of my cozy, carpeted apartment, putting one foot in front of the other on the hard concrete outside the door. The air was a brisk. The first autumn cool front had come with last week's rains, and I couldn't believe I was actually wearing a jacket in October.
My apartment complex is attractively landscaped, and it's on the terrace level. That means that instead of a view of the parking lot, we have trees outside our windows. Only when you look closely can you see that there are buildings and asphalt peeking through the longleaf pine needles. I walked out to the car, careful to cling to the sidewalk. There would be workers here later today, refinishing the blacktop of the parking lot and painting crisp new lines to keep us in our places.
On my drive to work through a nice residential area, a noticed a few of those little trees (I don't know what kind), the ones that win the race to have their leaves set ablaze by autumn. I've been tracking one on the way home from work. Its gradual bronzing started with a tip of flame at the top, and it's been spreading over the past week or so, working its way down. Now the whole tree is on fire, and soon it will be gone in a puff of winter wind.
Later, I started thinking about the potpourri. Why had I thought it was so pretty? When I realized that it was a harvest mix of cinnamon sticks, pine cones and wood chips, I began to think about how much of the decoration inside our homes is based on things that can be found right outside our windows. Our couch has flowers on it. Shower curtain: paisley with more flowers. My favorite necklace features a dangling leaf carved out of wood.
It seems that somewhere inside, we're searching for a lost ideal. Somewhere down deep, we know we weren't made for fluorescent lights and plush carpet. That's why we're so taken aback by a starry night or an endless canyon. There is a rhythm of creation. Our hearts try to beat to it, but man-made routines, meant to give us structure, sometimes get us out of sync with what's right in front of us. We can go for days without breathing a deep breath of air or listening to the birds call to one another across a forest. If only for a moment, we have to remember the world outside the walls of our office buildings and apartment homes. Sanity can be found there. It's in Our Nature.
Photo: Xinjiang Province, China, Copyright: Brad Kinney 2006