At 8:00 pm last night I strolled out of my house with a few golf clubs slung over my shoulder and a pocket full of golf balls. A short walk accross the park next to our home brought me to the nine hole golf course in Arlington, VT. I’m not much of a golfer . . . by a long stretch. I have cheap clubs, a random assortment of balls I’ve found lying around, and know as much about form and technique as most Americans know about Arabic.
Even so, the point wasn’t so much about golfing, it was about getting out. When it rains 9 out of 10 days, you have to enjoy the clear days whenever they come. The walk is nice and it’s fun to have something to swing at occasionally.
The course is a nice flat field that is usually kept in good shape. I only pay $2 instead of the suggested four because I only play four to five holes. Experience, i.e. my first two attempts at the course, has revealed that my patience runs dry after the fourth hole . . . if I get lucky. Wacking away at my dirty little “Top Flight Elite 4,” I probably bumped off a few works with my lousy shots, put a few divits in the turf with miscalculated swings, and occasionally put the ball right where I wanted it. I even came one heart-breaking put away from par. Of course I managed to finish that hole two strokes OVER par.
The temptation in all of this is becoming absorbed in the game of golf, which may be fun for some, but not really for me. The trick for me is to play the game, but to enjoy my surroundings. The Battenkill runs next to holes 2 and 3. The Taconic range runs north to south to the west of the course, with Red Mountain towering directly over the tiny town of Arlington and Mount Equinox looming off in the distance like an older, wiser brother. The sunset over the mountains is startling, when it can be seen that is. And last night was no exception.
I could have spent my time hunched over my ball that refuses to fly straight with my threatening clubs that always seem to inhibit my true golfing potential and not noticed the comforting strength and stability of the mountains all around. In the midst of my game I could have missed the purples, yellows, and oranges of the sunset. But last night was different. Something compelled me to look at and savor the mountains the sky. The shades of green on the hills and mountains punctuated the desolate tracts that were picked clean by those horrid caterpillars. The swift rush of the river filled my ears instead of the distinct swish and clink of my clumsy clubs. Four holes was all I needed to get out and enjoy the blooming world around me.
There are times when Julie and I hike in the woods and I realize that I have spent hours upon hours just looking at the trail. While this is a good strategy for not falling on my face, as is completely within the realm of possibilities, it also ensures that I notice next to nothing of the moss, ferns, berries, bushes, trees, etc. Hiking was a bit like a task, something to push through. The end was the end all of the activity. But training myself to spend a little more time looking around has made a difference. I’ve taken a few steps forward in identifying trees, in fact, I even have a favorite tree now: the striped moosewood maple. Look it up sometime, it’s a brilliant tree. Under Julie’s tutelage I’ve also begun to notice wild berries and have been able to do a little forraging for myself.
Looking around, noticing, and enjoying. It seems so simple and obvious. Who wouldn’t go golfing in Vermont and have a look around? But, the problem is that we look once and think we have seen. The truth is that the light will always be a little different, the river level lower or higher, and the trees a slightly different hue. The sun moves around ever so slightly and casts a wide array of colors into the evening sky. Even after sunset there is a deep blue shadow around Red Mountain sometimes in the evening. If we spend our time at work or play, the same will always be true. We can become preoccupied and consumed with our current activity and forget to look up. We miss out on the ever-shifting beauty that surrounds us.
Perhaps we don’t look close enough or perhaps we don’t look at all. We may be more distracted and perhaps thrown off schedule, but at least we can say that we have lived and savored the details. We didn’t squander the gift that was given to us. We looked up, around, and didn’t blink.