I was out in the wilds of west Marin last week—we packed ourselves and our Sheltie Emma into the (new!) Mini and drove across the Golden Gate Bridge heading north to Inverness and Point Reyes. Yippee!
We forgot about traffic…ugh. There was a lot. I found myself wondering if we shouldn’t have just stayed home. I hate sitting in traffic—it’s boring and claustrophobic and bad for your mental and physical health. I entertained fantasies of abandoning our new car and walking home.
But we finally made it to our turnoff and were soon on a quiet country road with rolling hills of bright green on either side. We headed up the mountain, passing through dense and fragrant groves of redwood trees with a not-as-full-as-it-should-be river faintly chortling through the gully below and then back out to rolling hills with cows and wild turkeys and gnarly live oaks stretching their arms wide open as if to say ‘welcome to the country!’ We drove until we reached a fork in the road and pulled into a parking lot for a small county park with a trail that wandered next to a quite-full river that flowed out into Tomales Bay.
As we followed Emma’s exuberant swish of a tail down the path, with the low afternoon sun stretching out the shadows of the newly budding branches of aspens and alders and river willows, a cool breeze off the river shushed through the leaves and tall grass. All around us choruses of robins and larks and finches filled in the high notes as they searched for their evening meal of gnats. I took a deep breath—the air smelled of damp earth and green bark and new buds and things that live in and around a river. Ahhhh—I felt the tensions of the city (and the traffic) fall away. Standing still, listening, feeling the wind and the sun and the soft earth beneath my feet, I had the profound and greatly relieved sense of belonging in the world.
Sometimes, you just got to get out of town.
The night before, I had gone with my dear friend Ann to hear Anne Lamott—charming, hilarious and wise as ever—speak about grace and read from her newest book, another little gem of life lessons called Small Victories, Spotting Improbable Moments Of Grace. The first chapter, titled The Book Of Welcome, talks about the need for all of us to find a place where we feel welcome in the world and how community does that for you. She says that in her thirties…she got sober, because she’d gone crazy. Then:
“A few women in the community reached out to me. They recognized me as a frightened lush. I told them about my most vile behavior and they said, “Me too!” I told them about my crimes against the innocent, especially me. They said, “Ditto. Yah. Welcome.” I couldn’t seem to get them to reject me. It was a nightmare, and then my salvation.
“It turns out that welcome is solidarity. We’re glad you’re here, and we’re with you. This whole project called you being alive, you finding joy? Well, we’re in on that.”
I couldn’t agree more…
But I’ve personally also found that some of the places I feel most welcome on earth are in nature, especially those places where the elements of earth, water, fire and air are all boldly present. Standing at the edge of a lake as the sun sinks below the far hills; walking barefoot at the edge of the ocean at low tide as the water rushes in and out, shocking my feet awake; sitting in a meadow of wild grass and mountain iris watching a stream wind its way over stones. Perhaps these moments of grace touch me deeply with a sense of being one with the world because they are undemanding and non-judgmental and all that’s required of the moment is to be present.
And yet, as we drove back into San Francisco in the early evening and the lights were just starting to go on in our jewel box of a city, I also had a joyful feeling of gratitude and homecoming. I do love where I live and feel so lucky to be able to get in the car and drive for twenty minutes and be surrounded by nature. Even if you do have to put up with a little traffic now and then.
Where do you feel welcome in the world?