Beech grove in fall at Arnold Arboretum

The Be Part

For weeks I’d been meaning to get to the Arnold Arboretum to enjoy the trees and watch the leaves fall and swirl and drift their way down to the ground. And here it was November, and somehow, though I’d left my job in June, I wasn’t finding the hours of free time I’d imagined. There were still so many tasks to accomplish, appointments to keep, new jobs to consider.

On election night I stayed up late with friends and slept late the next day. I slept past the time I usually meditate, which threw off my morning. It was a warm sunny day—likely one of the last of the season. I meant to get outside by 11:00, then 12:00, but wasted hours doing chores.

It was almost 1:30 when I finally got out the door. The Arboretum is one of the best places in Boston to get a nourishing dose of nature. The 281-acre sanctuary is a 20-minute drive from my house when there’s no traffic, over an hour when there is. My plan was to spend a lazy afternoon in the park, but I had to rush to get there so I could rush to get home so I wouldn’t get stuck in rush hour traffic. By the time I arrived at the Arboretum, my shadow was already long on the ground.

I wanted to find a tree to meditate under, but also wanted to take a long walk. I decided to do both, which increased my sense of being pressed for time. I set off for Peter’s Hill at the far end of the Arboretum, about a two-mile walk.

japanese maple with red leaves on groundThe foliage was just past peak. Lots of leaves had blown off the trees in recent downpours. Red leaves formed a carpet beneath the Japanese maples. The oak leaves, mostly still on the trees, were turning yellow and brown.

There were people about, but not too many: mostly women in their 60s and 70s, a few dogs with their walkers, a pair of mothers pushing baby carriages, and some retired men wearing hats.

I huffed my way to the top of Peter’s Hill with its view of the Boston skyline, then hurried down. By now the sun was almost behind the hill and the temperature was dropping. I took my jacket out of my knapsack and put it on. A gray rabbit scurried past, or was it a squirrel?

I didn’t waste time searching for the perfect tree to sit under, something I could easily have spent a whole day doing. Instead, I wandered off the road and sat near a ledge that was still in the golden afternoon sun.

Ah. Arrival. I exhaled, leaned back against the ledge, and closed my eyes for a long moment before opening them. Across from me, the leaves on the grove of beech trees were the tawny color of toasted marshmallows.

I checked the time on my phone one more time and turned it off. I sat there, trying to just sit there, attempting to be, feeling a bit cold, feeling the dampness of the ground through my jeans.

Why is it so hard to be in the present moment? What, exactly, is the difficulty? We exist in the now whether we like it or not. The problem isn’t with the present moment, however much we try to avoid or escape it. The problem is the be part. Just being. Not doing. Not hurrying. Not wanting something more or less. Something else.

I closed my eyes again. I heard the whoosh of cars. I remembered the turkeys I saw earlier. I remembered reading that wild turkeys were wiped out of Massachusetts in the 1850s, reintroduced in the 1970s, and now there are thousands. I opened my eyes. I remembered that I was supposed to just be being. A young couple walked by and I thought they thought I was weird for just sitting there. Some leaves fell. That’s what I’d been hoping to see. For a moment, I saw just that.

And then, though I wasn’t sure what time it was, the time for just being was over. I stood up, brushed the dirt and leaves off, and walked back through acres of remarkable trees.

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