Reading, writing, going outside for a while

I have a book on my shelf at home. It has been around for a while, and was well read long before I got hold of it.

It has spent some time in the sun, too, judging by its spine, which has faded to pale lavender while the rest of the cover is deep purple.

One of its past owners bought it used at a shop called Olympia Books in Dowagiac, Michigan. It had a bookmark from that shop in it when I bought it. That’s all I know about this book’s provenance.

The book’s title is Be Here Now. Its author was Baba Ram Dass, formerly Dr. Richard Alpert. Alpert was a big collaborator with Timothy Leary and the whole early ’60s acid scene before he travelled to India, sought and found pathways to higher consciousness through non-chemical means, and became Baba Ram Dass.

Alpert’s journey is recounted in detail at the beginning of the book. Then follows a series of illustrated messages, almost like posters spanning the newsprint page spreads, then several pages, also newsprint, printed with excerpts from spiritual and philosophical texts. It is quite a book. The important part of it, for my purposes here, is the title: Be Here Now.

For about the past year, circumstances in my life have demanded I spend a lot of time reading. The books have titles like The Machine in the Garden, Building a Workingman’s Paradise, and The Texture of Industry. A lot of my time that is not spent reading is spent writing. Or looking at decades-old correspondence between Charles Lawton and W. Parsons Todd, of Quincy Mining Company fame, records of stamp sand assays and of coal shipments carried on the steamships of the 1920s and ’30s.

These various demands on my time have made it more difficult to get outdoors for extended periods of time, have rendered my adventures more humble. Which is where the title of that book comes in. Only making it outdoors for short periods of time, it is important to get the most out of those times. To pay attention, to be in the moment, to be here now. It’s a consciousness that engenders a more acute state of perception. I try to take notice of my surroundings more intently. To see subtlety.

Things like the verticality of the tree trunks in a stand of birches, in white contrast against the underbrush. Things like leaves rustling or sunlight shining through them.

This morning I was walking the dog down a snow-covered old railroad grade. We followed the footsteps of a fox for something like a quarter mile. This evening, walking in town, I saw the wind swirl a wisp of snow, then spin a leaf, in the same small gust.

Riding my bike on old railroad grades this fall, I’d look closely at the deep green moss growing on old concrete abutments. Walking the dog down by the lake, we’ll watch the ice forming.

These glimpses are known to be fleeting. It’s best to grasp them fully when you are there.