How do I start this day?

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I never sleep well the first night of camping/backpacking. I’m not tired enough that early in a trip to ignore strange noises, adjust to a hard sleeping surface or stay asleep when the temperature falls. I’m never feeling rested in the morning when I wake up pre-dawn, stumble out of the tent/lean-to and wander into the woods to pee.

A week ago on a short backpacking trip, the temperature dropped into the low 30s that first night. When I woke up needing to pee, I planned to take care of business, crawl back right back into the sleeping bag and go back to sleep. But when I sat up in the lean-to and started to bundle up, I saw a yellow glow behind the mountains on the other side of the lake.


I never made it back to the sleeping bag. Every time I thought I was done taking pictures, the light changed and with it all the colors. Even when I had captured everything I could over the lake and walked back toward the lean-to, I kept spying new patches of light breaking through onto the forest floor or onto the trunks of trees. I took photo after photo.

This isn’t a new behavior for me. The artist in me notes, very often, where the light falls: its shapes, movement, intensity. And I’m not the only one, of course. Even cats chase sunbeams. It’s especially tempting, as a poet and writer, to tie “the light” to any number of stale cliches, and I’m certainly not immune. It always feels good to hear Leonard Cohen’s lines: “There is a crack in everything / That’s how the light gets in.” But as comforting as the sentiment is, its … ahem … *glow* never lasts very long for me.

However, something about the way the light pushed its way through the trees got to me last weekend, said, Carolee, *this* is what’s changing you: the light. It’s tempting to list defining moments as a series of losses: miscarriages, divorce, a mother’s death. And day-to-day, I just seem to accept rejection, criticism and struggle. It’s easy to believe that’s what makes us who we are. But when I consider the kindness and generosity people have shared with me, my body feels different. What if I could trace light as the through thread?

In fact, the grace all around me knocks my socks off.

And aren’t those great socks? They’re a gift from my friend Sarah and one of this week’s … ahem … *bright* spots helping me hang onto the “sunrise in the forest” feeling.

Here’s another: my horoscope for the week (as written by Naimonu James, whom I found via my friend Emily). I don’t check my horoscope regularly, and I don’t have a favorite source. My horoscope doesn’t typically even resonate with me. Except when it does. Then it’s magic. Like this one:

Change is a difficult gift to receive, but an unwise one to reject. Your willingness to accept the shifts occurring in your life is crucial to your expansion and liberation, dear Cancer. … Do what you need to do to ground into your truth and the reality you want to create. … Ask yourself where your energy is going and be as specific as you can. Is it going toward power struggles? toward drama? toward shit that has you bothered and annoyed? If that is where you want your energy to go, then put it there. …

Your energy is sacred, dear Cancer and it is of the moon. Do you think she wastes her time, for even a moment, on what does not serve and please her? Never. Her work is to bring light into our lives and offer us comfort in the darkest of hours. Her work is to maintain the natural ebb and flow of our world so there is balance and movement. In fact, her work is to remind us how beautiful change can be, how glorious it is to surrender to the flow of your waters and let the rest go. Where are you not allowing things to flow? And in your resistance, how are you blocking your own freedom and expansion? … Get brave enough to expand past the limits you have placed around yourself so you can get on with the divine work you are here to do.

It’s great advice for everyone, of course, not just me, but it struck a nerve in the best of ways. Surrender to the flow of your waters. Get on with the divine work you are here to do. Sometimes we just need a nudge, and it helps if we’re already warm to the idea. And I was, thanks to the Saturday morning sunrise from last weekend’s backpacking trip.

When I came out of the woods and started preparing for the week, I cleaned out papers I’d tucked in my pocketbook over the last couple of months. Among them, a poem printed from the Poetry Foundation. In “August Morning” by Albert Garcia, the narrator wakes early and wanders through the house, notes the ripe melon near the sink, details his wife’s face as she sleeps. Here are the final lines, in which the narrator admits a kind of awe about his blessings and how to navigate them:

How do I start this day,
I who am unsure
of how my life has happened
or how to proceed
amid this warm and steady sweetness?

Too often, we ask how we can go on through difficulty (and there’s more than enough of that), and so I love how Garcia flips it on its head. It echoes Mary Oliver, of course:

… how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

My inclination is to apologize for all the sweetness in this post or to find a way to temper it. This time of year, though, light is quite literally in short supply, and so I’m going to allow this one to linger. Change is a difficult gift to receive, but an unwise one to reject. So how do I start this day? I put on my socks. I grind the coffee beans, pick up a pen and only half listen to the news.


  1. It’s always about the light. Einstein said so too. Wonderful post. Thanks for the reminder, fellow Moon Child.

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