Raindrops on holly

Today is what the Irish call a soft day: gray and misty, with gauzy bands of drizzle wafting beneath an overcast sky. There is no need for umbrellas on soft days: a windbreaker and ball cap are all you need, along with an antsy dog who demands walking in all weather.


On soft days, Toivo and I have the streets, sidewalks, and aqueduct trail almost to ourselves. On our way to the place of pines this morning, we saw a distant border collie herding her owner toward the dog park; on the way back, we saw a woman walking a white Pomeranian that looked like a powder puff on a leash. Overhead, fish crows called and finches twittered, and underfoot, the needle-strewn trail was damp and spongy, as soft as fog.

They say that April showers bring May flowers, a saying that suggests spring rain is tolerable only if you focus on future beauty. But on a day like today, April showers are their own reward. After months of snow, mere rain cannot daunt us. After months of snow, any precipitation you don’t have to shovel is warmly welcomed.

No more boring graff

It’s still raining from yesterday and last night, although “rain” is perhaps too strong a word for this mist that falls without the sound of raindrops. You can see it in the air, and you can see it in the drops and rivulets that gather on impervious surfaces. But you can walk through it, like a cloud, without feeling you’re getting wet.

Two faces

It’s a metaphor often used in Zen that meditation practice is like walking through mountain mist: without realizing it, you get soaked clear through. And I guess that’s how things have been with my own Zen practice: as I do it, it doesn’t feel like it’s working, but all these years later, look at how wet I’ve become.

I think many things are like that: if you do something daily, you get better at it without really knowing it. As Ken Kessel JPSN once said, we become what we practice, or as Malcolm Gladwell writes, it takes 10,000 hours of doing something diligently to become proficient at it.


I know that over the years, I’ve probably spent 10,000 hours on my meditation mat, and as many hours (at least!) scribbling lines in cherished black notebooks. And I’ve probably spent the equivalent of 10,000 hours blogging, or snapping photos if you could somehow tally the total time it takes to snap, snap, snap day after day, taking bad shots along with the good and gradually learning how to sort one from the other.

It’s not a mystery, this method of doing something every day whether it seems to be working or not. It’s simply the wisdom of mountain mist: an imperceptible influence that cannot be denied.

This is a lightly edited version of this morning’s journal entry, illustrated with images from yesterday’s misty-morning walk down Modica Way in Central Square, Cambridge.

Late-night laundry

In my mind, the above is a misty scene. I remember taking this photo on a warmish winter night several years ago; a quick check of my blog and photo archives tells me I snapped the shot on February 3, 2006 and blogged it the day after. I don’t remember it being February, only foggy, and the above picture doesn’t capture any of the mist my mind so clearly remembers. Instead, there’s only damp pavement, a lone car, and the supernal glow of my local laundromat still open on a midwinter’s night.

This is the picture that captures the misty mystery of that February fog almost exactly two years ago:

Crossing Main Street

This second picture captures the atmosphere of that two-years-ago February night more truly: it was the kind of night where you could see snow ghosts swirling above the streets, their presence blurring the normally piercing beams of traffic- and street-lights. But it’s that first picture of some lone soul doing Friday night laundry that resonated most deeply with me, perhaps because on most Friday nights two years ago I would have been sitting at home, a pile of papers being my version of a lonely late-night chore.

Marquee reflections

It’s strange how our memories are ultimately more misty than even the warmest mid-winter night. Now that I have photo and blog archives to refer to, I can nail down dates, times, and places in a way I previously couldn’t; if put on the witness stand with my laptop and an Internet connection, in most cases I could tell you where I was, what I photographed, and what I thought about on any given day. Without the record of my blog’s literary and photographic hatch-marks, however, everything would ultimately be subsumed in the mists of forgetfulness: was it two years ago or three that I went to that art opening, and was it in February or December? Left to my own devices, I’ll forget it all. With a blog and photo archives, at least, there’s some sort of definitive chronicle: oh, yes, of course. It was then, and I was there!

After dark funeral home

I’m not convinced that bolstering one’s own memory is the best reason to keep a blog, but it certainly is a convenient side-effect. This weekend, Leslee considered her not-very-Groundhog’s-Day-like existence, concluding that this year, unlike previous ones, “Everything is different now.” I don’t know if for me everything is different now compared to two foggy Februaries ago–I still teach the same classes at the same colleges, I still live down the street from the same laundromat, and I still spend too many weekend hours grading papers. But still, I no longer spend Friday nights alone in Keene, and these days I’m attending more sports events than art openings. Over time, given enough Februaries and the words and pictures that chronicle them, some things do change, and if we don’t record it all day-by-day, most of it will be lost to the fog of time, our memories being the most misty mystery of them all.

This is my belated contribution to this past week’s Photo Friday theme, Misty.