I was at an outdoor music party at a house way up in the woods of Santa Rosa County recently when I ran into an old friend. We sat down in the backyard with a couple of cigars and caught up. He said something that resonated with me, especially since over the last few years I have come to accept the inevitable: I’m getting older.
What he said was that he was living a simple life, and found it immensely gratifying. In a time when being harried seems to be an inescapable component of life, he had responded by focusing on what was important to him. He works part-time at something he loves doing, exercises by walking, biking and kayaking, and grounds himself by exploring the woods and waters of the Gulf Coast.
He looked good, and seemed happy.
It’s a lesson I have been trying to absorb. I realized years ago that when I was much younger I lived in the delusion that whatever it was I was looking for was always somewhere other than where I was at that moment. I was always hurrying to get to wherever it was that all the good things were going to happen. As a consequence I often failed to be present where I actually was. The problem with chasing tomorrow is that you can never catch it; you can only experience life today, in the moment.
So one advantage of decelerating your life is that it gives you the ability to focus, if only because life isn’t speeding by so fast anymore. Combine focus with simplicity, and you rediscover the fun of simple things, which also happen to be a big reason why childhood is so much fun. Even with all the electronic marvels parents use today to anesthetize their children, it’s still amazing to watch what they can do with a few wooden blocks, some sticks and a pile of dirt.
One of my favorite simple things is feeling the warmth of the winter sun on a chilly day, which I was beginning to think were over for this year. So last week’s cold front came as a surprise. But after the rain and gray clouds had moved on we had a classic Northwest Florida winter day. Temperatures in the 30s overnight gave way to a morning under a crystal blue sky, bright sun and a brisk breeze.
I took a long morning walk along Escambia Bay, then returned home. In the early afternoon I sought out a wind-sheltered spot against the red brick south wall of our home. I put my hand against the brick and felt the heat it had absorbed since morning, now gently radiating outward. I pulled a chair back against it and was enveloped by the pleasant lethargy that seems to come only from the gentle heat of a winter sun.
The passing cold front had squeezed the humidity from the air, and all the colors seemed brighter. The greening leaves of the trees showed a palette of hues and the blue of the sky was crisp and bright. The grass, rising to its first mowing of the season, was vibrant and fresh.
The birds, busy at the feeder, paid me little mind, and a pair of cardinals chased each other through the shrubs in celebration of spring’s eternal inspiration. Woodpeckers fluttered through the branches of a blooming sweetgum, and a mockingbird serenaded the neighborhood. Overhead a large hawk circled lazily in spirals of heat rising off the asphalt of East Hill streets.
I stripped off my shirt to work up a little Vitamin D and try to revive what was left of my beach tan, which this winter I was able to work on right through February.
Eventually, as the sun began to descend, the chill returned, and urged me back inside the house. But I was happy to go; it had been a good day.