Daily Observations

Daily observations are part journal entry, part poetry, and part correspondence; they are a way to touch the inner life to the outer life at least once every day, and to express that experience on paper in a way that feels both beautiful and honest. This exercise began as a series of daily emails exchanged with two other writers, and those few months I was actively participating were the most connected I ever felt with my own life. The selections that follow are from July 2012.


Last night, thunderstorms. The sky gold. Not the honey-butter of sunsets, but an eerie gray-gold, split not only by lightning but by a streak of rainbow.

Standing barefoot in the warm rain, wondering if a better photographer could capture this moment, I understand: this is how change feels. An off-shade of clouds, tension plucking away at tender skin, the dense sky pushing down as though it might, at any moment, burst directly overhead. Then flashes of electricity in the half-dark, followed by a soul-deep rumble as the world adjusts.


Oneonta Creek Trail.

Five monks at the bottom of Horsetail Falls, five saffron robes in a huddle. Three heads bare, two snugged in wool caps.

A ritual perhaps? Or maybe a riddle.

I lean into the wind, listening. If they are chanting “Oh-nee-AHN-ta, oh-nee-AHN-ta” low and sweet, soothing the roused stream that tosses itself endlessly off the cliff-face, I want to hear it.  But there’s only birdsong, my own breath regaining its rhythm after a good vigorous hike, and (mostly) the roar of trucks on the freeway.

It’s only so long we are willing to wait, even in matters of the spirit. Just as I recognize the urge to turn away, one monk backs off from the group. His gold-capped head annoys me—I’d prefer symmetry in the remaining four, two each of hats and heads, but yes. Yes, now it begins.

He pulls something from his robe, and for one moment the whole place seems to freeze: the hikers, their eager dogs, even the wind. What secret is this? What balm? What cure? The four draw together as though, through contact with the yawning sleeves of their fellows, energy will circle and rise.

The lone monk fumbles. Smiles. Raises a camera to his face and pushes the button.


When I first moved to the farm, I greeted the trees.

Fifteen Douglas Firs—nothing like a forest, but a decent stand—towering above the house, making shade, clearing air. Each one straight and separate. I chose the farm partly for the trees, and before we had even moved in I made my way up the hill. I didn’t embrace the wide trunks or speak, just pressed my hands to each and felt for the life-flow.

Fluid. Strong.

On stormy nights when the groan of wind-thrashed branches kept me from sleep, I’d measure in my mind the height of those trees against the distance from the house. The amount of sway in storm-agitated, mature conifers is unsettling; I had to take the roots on faith. Deep underground I imagined them entwined, holding each other against a bewildering onslaught.

* * *

Tonight, a note from a friend. Just a casual greeting, but it’s been a while. We’re all so busy living and growing. Reading his words I feel something solid and warm curl around me in the dark.

How am I?

Staying limber in the gale, trusting the roots.


We make a merry trail—the music of the paddles, the colored glowsticks, the lamps glittering at their own reflections. Bats swoop low against a moon-milk sky. I know it’s insects they’re after, but still they seem to be chasing our light.

Thirty-five boats on the river tonight.

For a few, there’s a crescent edge of fear. They see the fingers of fallen trees reaching up through the current and take note of their own heartbeats. But most are simply happy to be here, and how beautiful, on such an evening, to have three kayaks to patrol our edges, shepherd us through the rough spots.

Conversations carry and merge above the water, voices surfacing singly and in groups. There’s electricity, not just an effect of the lights, but a pure human energy—people connecting, sharing, watching out for each other. In the dark, separated from the solid earth that grounds us, we are reduced to something essential, something pure.

My lantern skims the river ahead of the bow, a jar of fireflies to shine the way. The sweeper comes up from behind and sends a low call echoing downstream. I can’t quite make out the words, but the meaning is clear:

Keep joy, my friends. No one will be lost tonight.

~Kellelynne H. Riley