It must be somewhere around 2,300 treks. Empty handed, floating down to see Walter; carefully pushing a wheelbarrow in the cold winter full of dead auto batteries when the solar panels couldn't keep up with usage; carting empty and full water bottles, dirty clothes down, clean clothes up, food, furniture; and garbage--little though it was. Up and down. All of it. Everything that created the cabin, was consumed in the cabin, and was carted away from the cabin. All of it traversed this path one way or another.
Shyla in tow each time, until the final few trips down the hill during our move. She perched her tired, worn, 15-year old body on a mattress tucked up against the east entrance of the cabin. It was the coolest place on the property during the sweltering heat of summer. With compassion I would gently wet her body and the mattress down so it would create an evaporative cooler effect using precious drops of sparse water collected from the roof catchment system. The winds would push through the ground underneath the cabin turning the mattress into a swamp cooler for her. On those final two trips during the move Shyla rested in the shade of the oaks as I hiked solo for the only times in our ten years together there.
Now, the shade and the east entrance were gone because the cabin was gone. Moments of hope drained from my body as quickly as the eyes registered the site. The tall, lanky, dancer-like trees circling the cabin arched sorrowful and mournfully over the missing roof. No longer would these trees provide the much needed shade. Nor would they hold the restful hammock.
Birds could still flit through (and were, happily gobbling up the scurrying, newly homeless bugs), but the chipmunks couldn't use the trees as a ladder to their home safe in the cabin's walls. Cute chipmunk families that once darted around, stashing birdseed, drinking from the water bucket and snuggling into the warmth of the insulation would now need to find a new shelter to call home.
What respite the cabin held! Besides for myself and Walter's family, a community of critters, including occasional rattlesnakes drawn in my the nesting wood rats that built their home under the cabin. They, the wood rats, had a penchant for snagging anything they could carry and stashing it under the cabin, shoring up and expanding their living space. Empty gazundas, tools, Styrofoam insulation strips, water bowls left out for the birds and other critters, kindling--you name it--if it moved, they incorporated it into their home.
I appreciated the extra floor insulation their home provided during the sometimes cold harsh winters--it was square in the center of the cabin--but cursed each time I had to retrieve something I needed, as it meant crawling on my belly with a long pole and wrestling it out of their tightly woven maze.
Eventually, though, I witnessed the wood rat becoming a meal for the rattlesnake, home abandoned. Who knows how many chipmunks the snakes feasted on over the years as the cabin provided the town square for this local critter community.
And--this is the important part--because now, none of it remained, it was only the moments that played out, when they played out, that have any real value, because even the memories of it will fade in time.
This is the case for mindfulness--it not only deepens our awareness of each moment, so that what we experience is more deeply experienced, additionally, it teaches us without a doubt the temporariness of everything. Nothing can be held onto--we only "have" the experience in the moment. That, coupled with the attitude and intention we bring to the moment, is the sum of our experience in this life.
This awareness is what was advancing so deep into my bones as all of my senses sifted through the fire-damaged area. That even this moment of crunching over broken glass, ceramic, etc.--filled with remembrances, triggered by items forever changed and re-formed by the brief, powerful sweep of the #RockyFire--was all there was. It is the eternity of this every unfolding moment and we are each in it--just as you are now, reading this passage.
The life well lived is not the life of seeking, acquisition or accomplishment, but rather how present we are in each moment, whatever that moment holds. What attention is present? What intention? What attitude? Walter had mastered this life well lived. Shyla had not a need to practice it--she lived in it as part of her nature. I am on the path of understanding it and learning how to live it.
The importance of lovingly tending the critter community through food and water, or cleaning the cabin regularly, placing objects just so, was not for anything other than experiencing it as I was doing it and as it was experienced when complete, because none of it lasts for more than the brief moment it unfolds--much less forever--none of it.
And this is where compassion makes its entrance to the life well lived...to touch that which is inevitable--meeting the temporariness that is existence--where no one or no thing is exempt.
JoAnn Saccato, MA is a mindfulness teacher, author, life coach, educator, and consultant in Northern California. She is author of Companioning the Sacred Journey and the forthcoming Mindful and Intentional Living: A Path to Peace, Clarity and Freedom