Reluctantly, I start to open my heavy eyes. The surface beneath me feels off. Firm yet soft, crumbly yet wet, the cool coastal redwood duff surrounding me is not the comforting warmth of my bed. I’m not in my bed! The startling realization jolts me into action. Eyes flying open, heart pounding, I scan the area around me. Towering Redwoods and Douglas Firs blot out the sky. Thin golden-orange light filters through, sweeping in rays across the forest floor. The air is brisk, clear, and vaguely salty, wind whipping through the trees. The forest is calm, yet active; the fractal pattern of branches and bushes gives a sense of urgency. However, at the moment despite straining my ears, ears that were used to understanding the sounds of the forest, I hear nothing but the wind in the leaves. The brown scattered duff, a mixture of redwood leaves, pine needles, and dirt, below me dips down into a small river valley a few feet in front of me then stretches endlessly. Two large clear gallon plastic jugs lay neatly off to my side, heavy with water. The ground right underneath me feels more compacted as if from hours of lying in one position. Heart racing, worry welling up my chest, mouth dry with apprehension, two questions dominated my mind: How long was I there? What was I doing there?
Orange light streamed through the rounded rectangle windows. The ocean glowed a dark blue which clashed with the golden yellow. The dark, dank, man made, interior of the sprinter van framed the clear, crisp, natural beautify perfectly. My body yearned to be outside. My eyes, glued to the window, stared intently, focusing on the serene colors and lighting layered on the passing scenery. The dark California cliffs seemed to rise out of the ocean like an infinitely complex vertical wall of negative space and contrast. Disappointment flooded through me, my mouth was sour with missed opportunity. This scene of colliding light had potential to be one of my best photos. However, this trip was not about technology, without my camera or even my phone it was impossible to capture. As the sun dipped below the horizon and darkness overtook the land, apprehension and nervousness took priority in my thoughts.
At the thought of sitting still for 12 hours solely concentrating on my environment self doubt, fear and excitement welled up in my head, creeping down through my throat into the rest of my body, paralyzing me in my seat. This would be 6 times longer than any previous sit spot I had done.
A sit spot is an exercise designed to help you expand the bubble around you of which you are acutely aware while developing an understanding of bird language. Throughout the sit spot you “send your attention” as deep and wide as possible into the land around you. Despite my initial doubt, I firmly believe that sit spots give an understanding of bird language while increasing awareness. Through years of teaching sit spots, I’ve seen the delight spread across my students' faces as they start picking up on the secret signs of the forest. However, this 12 hour sit spot was before I started teaching, before sit spots became a commonplace practice in my life.
My heart slows, and my breathing returns to normal as I remember that I am doing a sit spot. The towering redwoods bring a sense of familiarity to me; my shoulders relax as I lean back onto my arms resting in the cool earth. My eyes are drawn upward by the straight lines of the trees shooting up into the sky. It is as if they stretch forever, their branches locking together in the sky to make a complex roof above me. As I gaze upward my mind is fixated on the light. Golden light, coming in rays low in the sky. Something is off with it, yet I can’t figure out what. I blink, then it hits me: the golden light streaming through the trees looks the same as the light from the previous night’s sunset drive. My stomach turns to a rock and drops. My head races as my body tenses and bolts up off my hands. I can feel my heart trying to break through my chest. A whirlwind of thoughts come crashing into my mind: Is it Sunset? If it is sunset I have slept through my entire sit spot, wasting it. What if I was supposed to go back already? What if I missed the call and they are searching for me? As these fast paced revelations come into my head, I can feel my body’s temperature rising, my face turns red as a terrible feeling comes rushing up into my mouth. It feels as if my entire body has frozen, yet is on fire while simultaneously my chest is being compressed. My worries are both elevated and relieved when the sound of a crow call breaks through into my swirling turbulent thoughts.
As I sat in my tent preparing for the day, the darkness only served to amplify my apprehension. Despite the early morning, my eyes were wide open. It was as if every previous sit spot was coming back to me in the form of excitement. My chest was tight, I could feel the anxiety and anticipation coursing through my body. I pulled out everything from my bag, making sure there would be nothing to distract me from my experience. Taking off my watch, I felt conflict and doubt sour in my mouth. Wearing a watch would take away from the experience of the sit spot. As I held my watch, the worn black velcro strap held together by rubber bands felt rough in my hands, yet it gave a sense of comfort. As I turned it in my hand the digital face glinted at me. It was as if its dented gray plastic body was echoing my own self doubts. There was no way I could manage to sit for 12 hours without knowing the time. With a sigh of disappointment, my inner voice “tsking” at me, I placed my watch in my bag. “Time to go! Remember, I will make my crow call when it is time for you to come back” My mentor, Edan’s rough voice cuts through my thoughts. Hurriedly closing my bag, I embark on an experience that will change my life forever.
Is the crow call real? Or is it Edan calling me in? My ears strain for the slightest noise, human or animal. It feels as if I am sending my senses off into the woods, searching and trying to interpret all of the signals. The crow calls are distant and continuous, the rest of the forest is still as if it is trying to highlight my dilemma. No other bird is talking. The trees stand tall, blocking my view of the path, providing no help or comfort. My body is quiet and focused on waiting. Then I hear it, another crow call in response, and then another and another. This can’t be Edan calling me back, it must be wild birds. I could’ve missed the call. Remembering my watch, I reach over to my bag slumped in the ground. As my hands shake undoing the buckles, I feel my chest tighten and my head swirl with worry. My watch’s familiar face briefly comforts me as I read the time: 7:30. My body suddenly turns still. I can’t taste anything. The ground, once comforting, is distant and cold. My mind is consumed with one singular thought. I have missed the deadline to come back. I don’t believe what has happened. This can’t be happening.
Deadly calm spreads over me. My senses are numbed as adrenaline surges through me. I don’t have control over what I am doing. I notice my mind planning how to get back to the group, and what to say if they had started a search party. I look up to notice my hands are still in the air holding the watch. Its familiar gray face now a pit of despair. Its rough velcro is unfamiliar and foreign. Scratched and dented, it sits in the golden sun as if it was laughing at me. As it glints in the light I notice there isn’t an AM or PM symbol. Hope flares up through me, warmth and feeling shoot up from my chest radiating into my stomach and mouth. Could it be? Could I have accidentally set it to military time? Is it just the morning? Terrified of the possible outcome, mind once again swirling and tumbling I reach over and press the mode button.
The shrill digital noise cuts through the fractals of the forest and tumult in my mind. I hear a chuckle escape from my mouth as my eyes focus on two letters: AM. It’s as if a vent is opened in an over pressurized inflatable bed. Worry and anxiety rush out of my head. My body relaxes, I can feel each of my muscles ease as I sink back into the redwood duff. I couldn't stop myself from laughing: I had fallen asleep for only 30 minutes. As I sit up, looking out over the forest, I feel a smile stretch over my face. Once again I hear the trees playing in the wind, the birds singing and the leaves whooshing. It was as if the forest and I were good old friends sharing a private joke.