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  • Writer's pictureChar Seawell

The daily drive into the Snohomish Valley provides ample opportunity to notice the patterns of nature. At the top of the Seattle Hill Road, an opening in the trees reveals the valley below and provides an unobstructed view of the jagged Cascade range on the other side.

In winter, the fallow fields often become soggy, providing rich habitat for migrating snow geese. The gullies between the precise lines of blueberry bushes that fill the valley floor often become flooded. And when the cold sets in, a frosty wonderland of broken stalks and icy puddles often erupts overnight.

Then in spring, corn fields emerge on the south side of the road promising future mazes that will delight families when the fall holidays arrive. The marching of summer days coaxes the stalks ever higher, obscuring vision to south, and I drive as though through a maze myself.

But it is the fall that brings the grandest version of this valley on my early morning drives. The sunrise sky in the all the previous seasons had been like Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring”. But this first fall sunrise sky was Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture,”the reds and oranges battling each other, exploding above the jagged peaks and wrapping them in smoke-like clouds.

So compelling were these skies that I began rising earlier and earlier just to catch another heart stopping glimpse. To no avail. My subsequent valley views have been filled with thick mists. Even more disappointing, on the mornings when my home skies are clear and I reach my viewpoint full of anticipation, the valley has been filled yet again and again with a fog obscuring all but the road in front of me.

One such morning, I noted my inner intense dissatisfaction with the fog as I slowed down even more due to its thickness. I found myself almost angry that nature was not providing me with a sunrise that would fill my soul, as though I deserved an ecstatic experience every day. In my grumbling, I paused to look out my windows, blurred by the thick moisture.

The landscape was awash with gray. Ghostly stalks of corn peered at me through the mist, lined up like soldiers ready for battle. Blueberry bush tufts poked up from beneath the fog like washed out, perfectly aligned bouquets. And the road literally disappeared in front of me, giving me vision for only several yards instead of hundreds.

In truth, I realized that like the enshrouded valley around me, my own inner weather was often overcast. And I had let my limited vision in those times affect my view of the whole world while waiting for the inclement weather to lift and bring clarity. My vision had become earth bound.

And my hungering for that fall sunrise to be “like it was” simply mirrored a deeper desire for the rest of my life as well.

In the onslaught of what has been happening around me in this last year, I had lost the perspective that the sun still bursts into the world every day, no matter the weather, and would do so until the end of time.

Like most of us, I think, I have become hope starved this year. But hope is not nourished drawing from the past. Hope is not nourished by clinging to mountain top experiences and trying to force them on the present. Hope is not nourished by wishing away a state of dissatisfaction.

Hope is claiming a certainty above our current vision. Hope is choosing a reality that is often not seen at ground level. And hope is knowing, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that what is above our own inner weather is glorious.

So tomorrow, when I crest the hill, I expect the valley will be filled yet once again in a layer of moist gray. But in my heart, I will choose to hear the ” 1812 Overture” filling the horizon beyond my vision. And I will rejoice in the reality of a hope that lives beyond my current circumstance.

  • Writer's pictureChar Seawell

A solitary walk at low tide at Deception Pass reveals not just the handiwork of the forces of nature, but also the evidence of human intrusion along the shore. Piles of driftwood from winter storms lie beached, creating worn wood barriers between sand and burgeoning dunes. Amidst the chaos of the storm tossed logs and branches, man-made forts dot the landscape in various stages of build and styles of architecture.

Passing by as I meandered alone along the low tide shore, I marveled at both the complexity and simplicity of the designs and, in some cases, the tenuousness of the driftwood structures.

But another part of me wondered, as my gaze shifted to the expanse of sand and sea, why we humans feel a need to improve upon the work of the forces of nature we cannot control?

Perhaps on some blistering summer day, a need for shade inspired the construction of one pyramid created from planks shaved and bleached by the rolling tide. Perhaps someone with fear of the dark tentatively shaped the sides of another with vast spaces in between.

Or perhaps it was simply a need to place our signature everywhere, to announce, “ I was here… I am significant.”

My solitary musing was interrupted by a young child who was carefully picking up rocks and delivering them to someone I suspected was a grandma carrying a small bucket. With each stone thrown in, grandma expressed delight, which provided all the encouragement this little girl needed to find more rocks. She, too, was finding significance as she ventured out and back, being rewarded for her efforts by grandma’s praise.

Passing them, I overtook a solitary woman also bending low, seeking treasures. She carried a small plastic bag, and I stopped to ask her about the contents. She looked up at me, her eyes clear and calm, her face weathered and brown.

“Sea glass,” she said holding the bag up to the light. “The sun makes it easy to see them. I am an artist, and I will take them home to create sculptures to share.”

Her face was relaxed and soft, and she fit this landscape of sea and stone as though it were her own. Wishing her well, I turned back to head for home, and after a few moments, I encountered once again the grandmother and the small girl. The girl was running across the sand towards one of the wooden forts, and when she stood in the entrance, she called her grandma over to her to bring the rocks.

“That’s a mighty heavy pail,” I joked with grandma as she trudged towards the fort and awaiting child.

“She’s been collecting rock treasures… but only the shiny ones.”

We exchanged those "knowing grandma" glances, and as I walked the gull saturated shore, it occurred to me that maybe I had missed some lesson entirely. Maybe this building of things on the shore was not a desire for attention after all. Maybe what cluttered these shores were sacred moments of creation and connection.

A family seeking rest from punishing summer suns built a driftwood fort and declared their shelter good, leaving it as a refuge for those who would come after. A little girl climbed into a driftwood doorway caressing carefully chosen shiny rocks from the shore and felt delight. And an artist with the bag of glass tumbled by the sea will return home to create a recycled masterpiece and experience joy in its creation.

So perhaps it is not a signature of significance we seek to leave on these shores after all. Perhaps we do this not for applause or accomplishment or prosperity, but simply to create. Perhaps we build driftwood forts, and become collectors of shiny rocks, and make art from frosted glass because on a cellular level, to do so brings us closer to the heart of God, who created it all.

And perhaps, just as God did, we then pause in delight and joy and, in the end, view what we have created and simply announce, “It is good.”

  • Writer's pictureChar Seawell

Updated: Sep 20, 2021

The two lane road that cuts through the Snohomish Valley is posted with a 35 mph sign. And really, why would you want to go faster than that? Every hundred yards are so are curves posted with 20 mph signs, so rushing really has no payoffs. It’s a sort of “hurry up and wait” scenario.

Besides, in the early morning of my week day travels, the sun is just now often cutting through the low lying fog, illuminating stalks of corn with shimmering tassels. Or the blueberry fields peek just above the fog in perfect unending rows across the valley. On one such morning, as I reveled in the growing rays of light, a car approached from behind and began to menace my back bumper. The driver floored the accelerator and passed a double yellow line, ignoring the safety of the oncoming traffic, only to come to rest in front of me at the red light.

Sitting directly behind the driver as we waited for the light to change, I must admit my sanctimonious feelings were at an all time high. After all, this driver had been so impatient, he had let his emotions take over. I am sure in his mind’s eye he was going to gain valuable time, and I wondered if he even noticed looking in his rear view mirror, that his efforts were folly. Or if he noticed my smug, self righteous smile.

That smugness disappeared when I encountered The Man Who Holds Up the Line. I first met him about five years ago in the elementary school drop off. In this drop off line, there are rules posted, the first of which is “Parents, do not get out of your car.” And yet every morning, The Man Who Holds Up the Line would get out of his car, walk around to his young son, and hug him deeply. As his son walked off, he would wave and call out, “I love you,” before getting back into his truck leaving staff and fellow parents frustrated.

Waiting in line to drop off my granddaughter as she resumed in-person school, I had assumed his children had graduated to middle school. So it was a surprise to me when this same morning, as the signal was given to release our children and grandchildren from our cars and move forward, that none of us could move. The Man Who Holds Up the Line was back with a new, young student..

I felt a rush of frustration flood into my body. Then it overflowed out of my mouth and hung in the air. My granddaughter and I bonded in our frustration with this parent who could not follow the rules…who seemed so oblivious to the needs of others… As we waited, our impatience multiplied and I could feel the tension increase in the car.

I hurriedly dropped her off and got back on to the road and was unexpectedly flooded with the memory of the Man in the Fast Car.

If The Man In The Fast Car were to meet an untimely end in this moment, his heart would be probably still be full of rage, indignation, and frustration at the slowness of the world.

But if The Man Who Holds Up The Line were to meet an untimely end, his heart would be full of relaxed, oblivious love. And if his child, God forbid, were to meet an untimely end, his heart would be full of the essence of being inconveniently loved with reckless abandon.

Which got me to thinking: how do I want to spend those last precious moments with my

granddaughter waiting in line? If my words are focused on my frustration with The Man Who Holds Up the Line, then what she learns from me is that following rules is more important than stealing small moments of love. If I complain about the time lost, what she learns from me is that a schedule is more important than taking that extra time to show love. If my last few minutes, with her are spent expressing frustration, she only learns impatience instead of just abiding in each precious moment together..

So, I hope I get stuck behind The Man Who Holds Up The Line tomorrow and every day. And if I do, I want to say to my beautiful, thoughtful granddaughter, “I am so glad he is holding up the line…I get to spend a little more time with you.”

Maybe in the waiting, we can tell jokes or play games.. Maybe in the waiting we can share dreams about the future, both hers and mine. And maybe in the waiting , I can learn to practice inconvenient, oblivious, reckless love in the opportunities provided by The Man Who Holds Up the Line.

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