While I seriously dislike being cold, I’d prefer a hundred times over to have to reach for an extra sweater than to sit in 90-degree heat and high humidity with no recourse. Hot weather is my SADD trigger: I really physically suffer if I have to endure baking temperatures and sauna-like moisture in the air, and putting up with those conditions just wipes me out. When I was doing outdoor art shows in the summer, I’d close out every day as quickly as I could, racing back to the A/C and a cooling shower.
When we’re camping, though, my aversion to heat and glaring sun comes smack up against the opportunity to be out on the water in my kayak, observing water birds and plant life. And sometimes, the things I see can temporarily suspend the sweltering environments of open lakes and large ponds. Sunday morning provided a couple such instances. Water lilies are just beginning to bloom in northeast Ohio, and this year, there are vast fields of them, stems intertwined, impervious to navigation in some spots. The lake at the park where we were staying was consumed by the lilies all around the shore, with only a small gap in front of the boat ramp and adjacent fishing dock. My husband and I paddled out, not donning our life vests but merely carrying them in the boats, because it was just too. damn. hot. to wrap ourselves in bulky foam and fabric. The water was as still as glass, anyway, because no breeze stirred the cloying, heavy air.
The silver lining was that, with no chop in the lake, the kayaks simply stayed in position when we stopped paddling. I was able to maneuver next to a fully-opened lily and get a close-up view of its concentric rows of soft white petals, each one exquisitely formed. I marveled at such beauty, floating serenely among all the boats and fishermen. And for the moment that I stared down at that perfection, my awareness of the heat and microwave effect of the sun were suspended. The discomfort didn’t enter into my consciousness for that stop-motion timeframe. When I’d gotten a couple pictures and took up my paddle again, the heat came back in force. Or, rather, my awareness of it snapped into focus again.
We continued around the lake until we reached a spot opposite the boat ramp from which we’d launched the kayaks. Along that stretch of the shore, the bank rose three or four feet above the surface of the lake, and huge old trees overhung the water. I heard a rustling, and suddenly, nirvana! A breeze sprang up, and it wasn’t just the stirring of overheated air. No, this was a cool draft, somehow sneaking in over the bank, heading straight out over the lake. I stopped the kayak and just sat, simply reveling in the sublime deliciousness of that breeze. It was another moment that existed entirely separate from the rest of our day’s excursion. We had to complete the trip and get back to take the dogs for their walk, or I would have happily sat in that exact spot for the rest of the afternoon, basking.
I’ve read descriptions of the psychological phenomenon that occurs in humans when they’re completely engrossed in a movie. The outside world ceases to exist for that span of time, as the story unfolds and concludes. Somehow, people are able to put their everyday thoughts on hold, and become absorbed by the action transpiring on the screen. I’m sure that the same thing happens when music lovers attend the symphony, or dance aficionados watch a ballet. I can testify to losing track of time when transported by studying a Rembrandt or a Vermeer. All of these events engage the senses of sight and/or hearing, but there’s a higher mental component as well, which results in the suspension of outward consciousness, even if only for a brief interval. Those intervals are immensely restorative. To be lifted out of oneself and to become part of the music or the dance or the action one is observing affords a respite. There’s relaxation, but also solace. It’s akin to the quieting of the mind that occurs during meditation.
In this chaotic world, we need to practice more of that temporary cessation of rat-in-the-maze mental activity. “Stop and smell the flowers” isn’t an empty cliché. The experiencing of beauty in natural or man-made form, the observation of it and the consideration of it, can be a remedy for what ails us. Such contemplation can take us out of ourselves and give us sorely needed perspective. Time taken to savor the perfection of a majestic tree, an exquisite flower. a masterpiece painting, a finely-crafted film, or a magnificent concerto is invariably time well spent, and it’s an investment in our well-being.