Comments & Notes, re: "The wonders beyond your head"

Responses to the September 2021 newsletter


“Reading your Granola piece, I began reflecting a bit on the topic of photos… I recalled a time about two years ago when my daughter and I saw a moose swimming in the lake while paddle-boating; I was a bit saddened that she said so quickly, ‘Mom, take a picture!’ Whereas just a few years before, when she was a toddling tyke, she would see the moon, say, ‘Look, the moon!’ and then just gaze at it for a good long while. I'm trying to practice better ways of seeing, inspired by those kind of moments—like when there's rain or thunder, enjoying watching the storm from our porch for as long as we can, or watching the stars or fireflies for a good long while in the evening.”

— Tessa


“In regards to this month's 'Granola,’ I wanted to say that this is something that I've thought about generally and have tried to incorporate into my day-to-day in ways that I hope are helpful. I am not on any social media. When I travel, I try to keep my phone in my pocket as opposed to recording everything. When with family, I don't take pictures but try to enjoy the moment as something that can never be captured fully any other way. But the problem goes far beyond that. In a philosophical sense, the question remains if we ever (even with all distractions removed) experience a thing as it is, or perhaps as it should be experienced (if we can even legitimate such a prescriptive stance). Are my own personality, the position at which my eyes and ears witness an event, my past experiences and knowledge inevitably framing everything in my life in a too limited or prejudiced perspective? Probably. Yet it's all we have. Instead of worrying about capturing the thing as it is, we can only hope to encounter life genuinely (and yes, that is a very inclusive thing to suggest, meaning that perhaps folks are experiencing things in ways that they think are genuine which I would have a hard time affirming).

The title for this issue of 'Granola' reflects the above considerations more than the body of the email, so obviously you had it in mind, and I'm sure I'm not saying anything contradictory to where you were coming from. That said, in response to your second prompt, to combat these things I do one thing generally. I try to slow down. I read a lot …  I am comfortable sitting in silence, either in my own home or in nature or with others, because on the margins of activity we have more ability to reflect on and understand ourselves, our situations, and our counterparts more deeply.… I don't worry about what I'm missing (aided in large part by my absence from social media and my ignorance about what I'm missing), I just try to enjoy the simplicity of what is going on in my own life…. I believe that all of these (mostly) intentional practices aid me in living into my time, place, and person in ways that would be inaccessible if I lived life from a more frantic point of view.

All told, I have no answer to your challenge, as I think from a deep philosophical perspective there is no way to remove ourselves from the frames through which we see the world.  In that sense, we inevitably live life existentially and must hope that in remaining true to that we might encounter the essences of God's reality sincerely, if in no other way.  That's all I've got.”

— Paul


A truly beautiful loaf of zucchini bread, by Christine Norvell!


“I love big thunderstorms! A month or so ago, we turned off all the lights and sat curled up by the window during a huge lightning storm. It makes me think of A Wrinkle in Time, ‘Wild nights are my glory!’”

— Leah


“I am on vacation at the beach in North Carolina. On Monday night, we saw about a dozen newly hatched turtles make their way to the sea, and that was in the back of my mind throughout this piece.

In one way, the experience was truly serendipitous—we had no expectation of the event. We've been coming here for years around the same time and never seen this before, and had no way of knowing before we arrived.

In others, it was very much experienced within the approved parameters, both for us and the turtles. The bulk of the nest—which had been moved back from where the mother left it at the high tide watermark to the edge of the dune—had made its way to sea the night before we arrived. The turtle watch had moved the nest and made a trench to lead them to sea with s little barricade on either side. After three days, they came to inspect the nest and launch any stragglers, of which there were about a dozen. When the first ones made it to the water, everyone all cheered.

It was quite neat to see, but it's hard not to think of it as a weirdly unnatural event, down to the volunteers shepherding the turtles to the shoreline and calling to others to watch the seagulls and pelicans. I suppose, given the island's transformation into a several mile strip of vacation homes, it's necessary, but maybe more symptom than solution.”

— Matt


“I'm going to avoid the thoughtful questions and second the praise of the zucchini bread recipe. A newsletter last year included the recipe and I've made it multiple times since. We devour it every time. I gave some to my 11-month-old last week—he also loved it. I'm not much of a cook, but this recipe gave me a lot of confidence that I can do what needs to be done in the kitchen and helps me use the never-ending supply of zucchini.”

— Juul



“Having an unimpeded view of all the stars in the sky was probably the most awe-inspiring scene of natural beauty I've ever experienced. It isn't the kind of thing that can really be experienced in pictures either; being able to turn your head and see stars without number no matter where you turn certainly makes you feel so small and makes the world feel so vast.”

— Adam


“When you encounter the natural world without expectation, you must enter into some kind of conversation with it—paying full attention to what it’s all about, what it has to offer, and what it may want from you in return. Typically (though not always), you don’t try to control other people, at least not the people you love and respect. Instead, you enter into connection with them, start a dialogue, an ongoing conversation. You could do the same in other areas of your life, including how you relate to the natural world and other wonders beyond your head.

…These sentiments are echoed by the linked Brainpickings’ (aka Maria Popova) review of Hermann Hesse’s essay, ‘On Little Joys.’ Hesse takes aim at another defining feature of modern life: being busy. Again, in our attempts to control our lives—to achieve all our goals, to be the best version of ourselves—we race around trying to do as much as possible, celebrating our busyness as another personal achievement.

But Hesse couldn’t disagree more. He writes that ‘the high value put upon every minute of time, the idea of hurry-hurry as the most important objective of living, is unquestionably the most dangerous enemy of joy.’

Hesse sees our insatiable desire for entertainment as a symptom of this unhealthy control mindset. When our motto is ‘as much as possible, as fast as possible’ then we seek out ‘more and more entertainment and less and less joy… This morbid pursuit of enjoyment [is] spurred on by constant dissatisfaction and yet perpetually satiated.’

How can we escape this viscous consumptive cycle? Hesse suggests that the key is to enjoy things in moderation and to embrace the little joys in life. As Popova writes, learning the “difference between binging on stimulation and savoring enjoyment in small doses… is what sets apart those who live with a sense of fulfillment from those who romp through life perpetually dissatisfied.”

— Sam Wren-Lewis, via “Human Thoughts”


William Henry Hope (1835–1917), “From Croham Fields, Croydon, Surrey, Just before the First Thunderstorm, Tuesday 28 June 1892” 

“This year I've really enjoyed the rising tide of august cicada calls. The rain in the northeast has been heavy and frequent, but the sounds of the rain feel cleansing. Like Leah I love big thunderstorms. Finally, its that time of the year to harvest the squash so I'd like to share one of my mom's favorites this time of year: Korean pumpkin porridge.”

— Danny