Before I moved to Seattle nine years ago, I lived in Montana for a year. I came out to Seattle for a visit on a gorgeous and summery weekend in early June. Some good friends of mine took me out sailing on their boat in Elliot Bay and I remember looking back on the city and feeling overwhelmed by the size of it, by the expanse of buildings. All I saw were buildings and houses from one end of the horizon to the other. The city looked so dense and it felt dense as I rode the bus through the urban neighborhoods of northwest Seattle, the same area of the city I live today.
After a year in Montana, where the sky is big, the landscapes wild, where every resident lives face to face with the wilderness even in the middle of a “city,” I was experiencing a bit of culture shock. I knew that most likely I was going to be moving to Seattle. My heart felt a bit squeezed by it. How would I fare here after living in a place surrounded by wilderness, by beauty and nature, a place I felt so at home? How would I fare among all the buildings, the urban sprawl, after all those afternoons and evenings spent wandering and exploring the trails in and around my Montana town looking for new vegetation, discovering new wildflowers?
Today I rode my bike across I-5, the interstate that runs from Canada to Mexico through Washington, Oregon, and California. I-5 runs like an artery through Seattle, but instead of blood, it pumps cars. As I rode over the pulsation of cars pumping through the city, I took in this place I live – the beautiful skyline of downtown Seattle, nicely contained at a “safe” distance from my northwest neighborhood; the green treetops that fill and color the slopes of Eastlake, one of Seattle’s urban neighborhoods; the expansive and radiant blue sky, brushed and billowing with clouds; farther south I saw the beautiful snow topped Mt. Rainier rising from the blue horizon, standing large and tall. Sure I saw the buildings and was aware of the traffic beneath me, but what struck me most was an awareness of how majestic and utterly full of nature is this city, this place I call home.
Seattle is truly a dynamic city – we have water, lots of water, both fresh and salty; to the east and to the west we have the rugged mountain ranges of the Cascades and the Olympics; and we have birds, lots of birds, yellow birds, birds that sing beautiful songs, birds with giant wingspans and big white heads, birds that peck wood, birds that look like that image of a stork carrying a baby, known in these parts as a Great Blue Heron (one of these guys called out to me tonight as it stroked over my back yard, so low to the ground that I ducked as I heard and felt it pass over me), and of course, my little friend, the hummingbird.
As I took in the city, I thought of someone dear to my heart, someone who has left this city, maybe temporarily, maybe indefinitely, and I thought, “Seattle misses you.” But then I paused myself and instead let myself feel and more fully absorb what I was seeing, what I was taking in. Staying in the present moment. . . it’s not about them, it’s about us; it’s about our moment. It’s about squeezing every last drop out of each moment life gives us and savoring it, for ourselves. Staying present, this is how one fosters contentment and gratitude.
Not too long after this shift in my internal dialogue and perception, I drove to yoga class on the very same freeway, the artery I had just ridden over on my bike. I was approaching the city, taking it in again. I remembered that moment nine years ago of looking back on the city and seeing nothing but buildings and feeling squeezed by it. Today it’s a very different feeling when I look out on and navigate through the city, a complete shift and change in perspective. I felt a little proud of myself for having this moment of insight, for making this connection between then and now, and for recognizing that just like my view and perspective of this city has changed, I had a moment of awareness and was able to successfully, on the spot, in the moment, shift my perception and change my perspective.