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On Watching and Writing

glowing clouds and rays of light from the setting sun

I’m sitting on my back patio, looking out to the north over the Morongo Basin. I’ve been in my new home in the village of Joshua Tree for over a year now, and I shouldn’t think of the place as “new” anymore, but I’m still very much trying to get my bearings in this desert landscape.

After years spent pulling up stakes every six months as a seasonal worker, a year spent in one place feels strangely permanent. All the more so since I have every intention of staying in my current home and job for another four years. While I’ve enjoyed settling myself in for the long haul–and bear in mind that, if I don’t move once in five years, that will be by far the longest I’ve lived under one roof in my adult life–it has come with some unexpected consequences.

The most noteworthy of these is that I have done remarkably little exploring of my new homelandscape, the Mojave Desert. In the past, when I moved somewhere new, I knew I wouldn’t be there long … and I made the most of every moment of free time I had. I’d go hiking with friends or by myself; I’d be happy to drive a few hours to see something new. I haven’t done that here. I’ve spent many happy hours at home, watching the Gambel’s quail make their twice-daily circuits through my back yard, watching Costa’s hummingbirds tussle over the right to sip nectar from the feeder, watching the shifting light of the setting sun illuminate monsoon clouds from below, watching as creosote bush, senna, and cholla cactus seedlings put down roots and grow.

Watching, watching, watching.

I’ve always been a proponent of watching. Careful observation of wildlife, plants, and weather patterns makes me feel connected to a place and appreciative of the infinite variety of ways that living things have been able to prosper. Recently, though, I’ve been wondering if I’ve gone too far, if I’ve shifted from a participant in life to an observer of it.

Those of you who used to read this blog regularly know that 2013 and 2014 were turbulent years for me. A lot of great things have happened. I spent a couple of months hiking solo on the Appalachian Trail, I landed the coveted permanent job I’ve been working towards for years, I published a feature article in a beautiful glossy magazine with an international readership. But tough things have happened too, and after all the changes of the past couple of years, I seem to have lost my grasp on what’s most important to me in my daily life.

Recommitting to this blog is one of the things I’m doing to revitalize myself and my sense of connection, to place and to people. Writing is so fundamental to who I am that it has cost me to neglect it.

In the month of September, I’ll be trying out the WordPress course “Writing 101: Finding Everyday Inspiration,” responding to daily prompts from September 7-October 2. I hope you’ll join me in the journey.

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3 Comments Post a comment
  1. Ellen #

    Yeah, isn’t it weird that we switch to a lifestyle of more savoring and slowness with the slightest inkling that we are/might be putting a root down? I’m looking forward to more of your posts popping up in my inbox.

    August 25, 2015
  2. gustywinz #

    I think moving around keeps visual stimuli fresh. Staying might demand more goal orientation and put more emphasis on people (stimuli) and audio stimuli. That is interesting though.

    August 26, 2015
  3. Angela #

    So glad to see you sharing your writing here again, Cathy! I hope that you will find that balance between watching and participating. I do appreciate the act of watching, too. It makes me more attuned to the beauty in all forms of life, and, hopefully, that has an impact on how I participate in life. Looking forward to reading about your journey.

    August 26, 2015

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