What is a Sabbath?

Memorial Day is an American holiday started in 1865 by freed slaves to honor the military dead of the Civil War. It features parades and military connections, and can be a meaningful moment for touching grief and remembering the costs of our history. And like many secular holidays, the weekend has morphed in meaning. It is now largely considered the “official beginning of summer”—not by the Solstice calendar, but by planting tomatoes, attending weddings and graduations, and hyped up car sales and whatever else might be touted on TV (I’m not inside, not watching.) We’ve had a long, rainy winter in this region (nearly 10 inches above usual rainfall for the year) and three days of sunshine is a miracle long in coming.

The island where I live feels literally weighted down with visitors and traffic—folks determined to get out of the city and into the view and beaches. Mostly very white-legged people are strolling through Langley, the village by the sea, filling up the coffee and ice cream shops, shopping for souvenirs. They are on holiday mode—we are on “Sabbath.”

Having declared this day a Sabbath, we are staying home, away from crowds. We began with breakfast and tea on the patio—still cool enough to require fleece—then into the garden to weed, plant bush beans and squash, admire the strawberries, encourage the peonies. A gorgeous low tide drew us to the beach for a long ramble

Low tide, facing west.

and to support Gracie in gull chasing and swimming. We held a morning council in the sand, backs braced against a drift log: one speaking for 10 minutes, the listener then offering reflection and dialogue, and then the other speaking.

Mid-afternoon we are sitting in shade in the backyard, each working on bits of writing that give us pleasure. Our neighbor’s wind chimes provide musical background, and we are quiet enough to watch the life of our yard’s small birds. The lanky rhododendron bushes that hug the base of our largest Doug fir are drooping and every now and then a blossom drifts lazily down to the duff.

There is much on my heart. I don’t have to list it; you know what I mean. And you have your own list—societal and personal sorrows and outrage. Today, we have declared a Sabbath, and this means a sabbatical from reciting this list, from signing petitions for every worthy cause that clogs my inbox, from being lured onto the Internet to rabbit-hole into obsession with the state of the world. Not today. Today is rest. Today is breathing easy. Today is typing while shadows from the birch leaves play across my screen.

In the race and pace of the modern world, no one gives us a day like this: we have to declare it, design it, decide to “not do” as much as “to do.” We have to maintain the rhythm of it when the mind gets jumpy with undone tasks, or jerks into habituated distraction—Shush, come back to calm, it’s Sabbath. Let go of every litany but gratitude. Type with fingernails dirty from gardening. Comb sand out of the dog’s fur. Notice Nature’s abiding stillness and find an inner stillness to join it. Attach to heart.

Ann just wrote a blog about her “Sit Spot,” I realize I’m writing about my “Sit Day.”  What a relief—to be stilled and grateful for one whole day. Sabbath, indeed, and my offering into the week upcoming.

Sit Spot

The idea is simple, really. Plunk yourself down someplace outdoors and sit still for 15 minutes—no electronic devices, no books, just your eyes, ears, and sense of smell wide open. What do you observe?

On Mother’s Day I was making a call to my dear 90-year-old mother while sitting indoors near our front picture window. It was early morning, chilly and overcast. While talking with Mom, I noticed the little junco leave its nest on our front porch.

Our front porch with nest in pot on right side of the front door. Photo by Ann Linnea

Sign warning visitors to use the back door.
photo by Ann Linnea

Ten minutes later, still deep in my conversation with Mom, I noticed the junco return with an insect in its beak. The four blue, speckled eggs had hatched, on Mother’s Day, no less!

Four junco eggs in the nest at our front door.
Photo by Christina Baldwin

After finishing my call with Mom, I began my Sit Spot exercise. I actually could not go outdoors because there was no place to sit without interfering with the junco mother and father’s 10 minute feeding interludes. For nearly an hour I watched the faithful parents in their routine. Every day since then I have spent a lot of time at my Sit Spot.

Adult black-headed junco delivering a small grub to her nest concealed in the flower pot. Photo by Ann Linnea

     

Baby juncos.. Photo taken by Christina Baldwin immediately after the parent junco went to get more food.

 My indoor Sit Spot is close to home; nature is present; I am alone and safe; my attitude is one of curiosity and openness, but I am sitting indoors. (So, humble apologies to Jon Young, author of What the Robin Knows, whose description of a sit spot very definitely intended a Sit Spot to be outdoors.)

A Sit Spot reaps the greatest rewards if you revisit your spot on a regular basis—i.e. become an expert on the comings and goings on your little piece of earth.

First baby junco to fly from the next and wander the front porch. Photo by Ann Linnea

By watching the junco nest from first hatch to fledging these past 12 days, I have been stunned and amazed at the rapid growth of these little birds. And I am really, really impressed with mama and papa junco who never, ever fly straight into the nest. They zigzag from nearby post to bush looking carefully for the presence of any predator and then dart in, feed their completely silent little charges, and head back out for more food.

Now that the fourth and final young junco has left the nest, I have no way of tracking how the parents keep feeding their young or if marauding crows capture and eat one of the young. However, just two days after the final baby fledged I was reaching for the garden hose and one of the babies ran deeper into a bush, peeping all the way.

I have gained deepest respect for the diligence of junco parents and am reminded again of the incredible fragility and strength of life.