The first ripe plum on our little plum tree dangled in front of me this morning. The birds hadn’t even a pecked a hole in it, yet. The Santa Rosa plum, one of Luther Burbank’s best inventions, is a pretty, purpley-red color, with a frosted silvery sheen, and sunshine-yellow on the inside. I plucked it off the tree, bit into it, and stopped in my tracks.
That POP, as your teeth snap through taut, purple skin, still cool from the night air, a burst of tart, followed by the gorgeous, juicy sweetness of summer--I had to stand still in awe. It tasted of being a kid, maybe eight years old, when the summer day stretches out forever, and you swiped a plum off the neighbor’s tree as you made your way to the pool, or river, or stream to cool off. For that once instant I was transported. Joy, (or her little sister, Well-Being) washed over me.
Maybe I’m getting jaded, or I’ve been running too fast, but Joy-- that sparkling, champagne-cocktail-feeling-- has eluded me lately. That sense of bliss that slips up on you, unnoticed and unexpected, flooding your senses with sweetness and light. Joy’s a slippery one; you can’t summon her like a dog, with commands, whistles or treats. You can only entice her-- like scattering flower seeds for butterflies.
Joy is hard to define and harder to pin down. The last (and most memorable) time I felt JOY, with capitol letters, was when a cherished family member confided she was pregnant with a much longed for baby. That feeling stayed for months and months, culminating in a safe delivery of a healthy baby. I will always treasure that visit with Joy.
But it’s not usually the big things that get Joy to show up for the party. Not even, ”Yay! My book finally got published!” Publishing a book is awesome. But it’s also a lot liked the day after having your baby: a mixed bag, or diaper-bag, so to speak. When you achieve a longed-for goal, you feel accomplished and amazed—but also overwhelmed.
You think you’ve finished the job—but, NO. This is only the beginning! This is where the compost really hits the fan. Now you must raise up that baby, market that book, peddle that new business, --or whatever. From that moment on, Responsibility and Work climb into the front seat of your jalopy, joined by suitcases of Worry and Doubt in the back seat. Joy may elect to come along for the ride, but-- she’s she’s choosey—showing up for the sunset vistas, or the rainbow after the storm.
Just as you catch a glimpse of Joy in the rear-view mirror, she’s fluttering off-- not one to hang around howling babies, and other cumbersome baggage. Joy slips out of the noisy, crowded, places, preferring to lightly settle, for a moment, on the quieter, sensory experiences.
Last night, the lilting song of a robin called out, over and over, breaking the silence of the woods as I walked the dogs. It brought me straight back to sunny, Sebastopol mornings, during apple blossom season, walking with my Gram. On those spring rambles, before I'd ever even thought of school, it seemed like nothing bad could ever happen-- like every single day would have blue skies, homemade donuts and robins singing. That robin-song feeling was sweet and tart--like a summer plum.
Joy hides out in scents, too. Each person’s joy-perfume is different: maybe fresh-cut grass, lemon peel, lavender soap, or rain hitting hot pavement in the summer. For me, hiking down to our creek is a perfumed-hit of joy. The air gets cooler and sweeter as you descend into the shade. The pungent scent of mint and river-weed underfoot surrounds me, transporting me to my carefree youth, scampering along the banks of the Russian River.
This afternoon, my husband invited me to wander down to the creek with he and the dogs, for our version of a Hillbilly Holiday. This means sitting in a folding chair in the stream, watching crawdads and minnows dart past, while sipping a cold soda or beer. I can’t help but think of friends touring villages in Spain and Italy, or setting up summer residences in Paris; but creek- sitting in Templeton, California, on a hot day is lovely too.
It’s likely that Joy is all around me, always available, if only I’d slow the old jalopy down and pay attention. Maybe if I toss out some excess baggage, move a few responsibilities into the trunk, and actually pay attention to the beauty around me-- Joy may decide to hop aboard and ride shotgun for awhile Maybe she just needs a little more room.
But even if she doesn’t choose to come along—her little sister, the sweet Sense-of-Well-Being, is always available. Maybe Well-Being needs a cuter name, like Willa, or Wilma. I think Wilma is good, after my own treasured Auntie. Well-Being-Wilma is not as celebrated as her champagne and roses sister. She's more like a cold beer and a handful of wildflowers. She doesn’t get her name in songs or poems much as Joy. No, Wilma is practical, cheerful, and generous as summer days are long. I don't have to bribe her to come, I just have to allow her--and there she is, climbing in with a picnic basket overflowing.
Joy, for sure, is sublime, and no life is complete with a taste of joy now and then. Some wise people live in a way that cultivates joy nearly full-time I'm not there yet. I will try to make a little more room for her, though, plant some flowers, in case she's in my neighborhood. But when I think about it-- what I really want on this jalopy ride is what Wilma so freely offers: a sense of well-being: enough freedom to walk by a stream whenever I please, enough peace and prosperity to enjoy the day, some good company, a cold beer on a hot day-- and when I'm extra lucky, the first plums of summer.
Welcome to Streamriffs.com, a place for fellow creek- walkers and nature lovers. Lori Fisher Peelen lives in California with her family.