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Observing, Presently

 The change in my blog's header reflects an editorial change. During the time in which I have been away, I've had time to consider if there were a common thread among my 302 posts. The result is "El observatorio de Ysabel," or Ysabel's Observatory. I might observe the stars from time to time on this virtual page, but my plan is to observe the goings-on on earth. The title reflects my desire to share observations rather than opinions, with the hope that such observations can lead others and myself to insight and understanding; to be, perhaps, a candle in a window to anyone who passes by. 

To those of you who have continued to visit my blog since I have been away, thank you. Your presence means a lot to me. 

Now, let us climb a mount called perspective, as if we were heading to the McDonald Observatory in the Davis Mountains of Texas, where I passed some fascinating hours this summer. 


I made my first trip to the Davis Mountains last June. The first night of the trip was to be spent at a "star party," where we lay-folk would look through a mega-powered telescope at the McDonald Observatory and observe the constellations we cannot see from home.  Clouds cancelled it all. Big, simple clouds foiled the star-party crowd.

In my early 20s, I bought a used book on Zen Buddhism for 49 cents. It did not change my life; it did change my mind. Two things drew me to the subject matter as though the book were a magnet and I a handful of metal fragments. 1) The koan. "Draw the bow after the thief has left." And 2), presence: momentary, yet eternal, the question of how to be present now. 

Weather is a good Zen teacher. I am at my most present in the face of weather. When I store my winter clothes, I do so, convinced that I will never need them again. The thought of autumn, much less winter, on a day when the thermometer reaches 104 is not surreal, but unreal.     

An old American elm tree lives a foot from my yard, its trunk separated from me by a honeysuckle-covered fence. Its roots and branches, though, spread beneath and under my bit of land. As long as I have lived here, I've never seen my neighbor water it. I have watered it. This year, our county entered "catastrophic" Stage 5 drought. I once thought that watering this tree, and the rest of my yard, was a chore. Now that outdoor watering is forbidden, I know that chore for what it has always been: a luxury. 

With the help of a friend, I rigged a water recycling system that pumps bath and shower water into a rain barrel outside the bathroom window. I also collect rain when it graces us. I collect water from vegetable and hand washing and anything else possible. This year, I have been able to give the great elm only buckets of recycled water and what additional rain water I could. 

Last Wednesday, I raked its fallen, dessicated leaves into a large pile. I thought of the pile as summer's sad harvest. The next day, rain arrived. Plentiful, musical, cool. The temperature plummeted. The sage bushes bloomed. The tree looked refreshed, despite its loss of leaves. I looked at the pile of brown leaves, now damp and soggy, and thought, How could I have been so sad yesterday? How could I have believed that it would not rain for weeks to come? 

Because, Zen master, I had truly been in that present moment! I was all dead, dry leaves. Then. All fresh water. Now.  When I awoke this morning, I saw the grey sky, and thought, "It will be cloudy today." Yet even as I write, the sun peeks through those clouds. It was cloudy only in that present moment, now past. 

Weather is not season. Weather is now. I am within it now, and only now. When I can watch the weathers inside me, feel or know them fully and yet also know they are not more or less than now; when I can declare to my very soul that no cloud can take a star away; when I can discern within now what is merely present and what is present eternally, perhaps then, I can draw that arrow and know, indeed, the thief has left.

On the rise at right, two observatory towers appear as small shapes atop the mountain. Appear barely, I should say. They seem to blend in as natural shapes at this distance. 

Header photo, Elena Marconi. All other photos, Ysabel de la Rosa. Text and images, copyright 2014.


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