The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper. ― W.B. Yeats
Many of us in California are blinking back into the light. Three weeks of atmospheric rivers passed over us. We dodged falling trees, forged washed-out roads, and mostly spent the time
inside, listening to the incessant rain, occasional hail, and raucous winds. California needs the water, but so much in such a short period of time felt Biblical. My deadline for a cookbook on wil
d foods was mid-January, so I spent the time writing and testing recipes as my houseboat shuddered and swayed in the squalls and gales.
And now the sun is shining, and we are coming into the season of awe. The herring have started arriving in the San Francisco Bay; schools are pulsing under the Golden Gate and spreading out along the shorelines to spawn in the eelgrass. Pelicans, cormorants, and grebes
are going wild along with sea lions and seals, dolphins, and river otters. These are prespring, the fertile void – as all the animals are taking in their nutrients to get ready to breed. Green is sprouting everywhere: moss in luxurious carpets, leaves on trees are just starting to bud, and edibles like stinging nettles, miners’ lettuce, and wild onions are starting to sprout. And the mushrooms. So m
any mushrooms. Last week in Mendocino we came across a family of lion’s mane on a downed tree that was bigger than our heads. People are uncovering chanterelles in places they’ve never appeared before. Foragers are finding buckets of black trumpets. I think of this as the season of awe when we get to witness the creative life force that animates this planet pushing us into a new springtime.
In a recent New York Times article, How a Bit of Awe Can Improve Your Health, the author writes that the six basic emotions felt we feel, as defined in 1972, are anger, surprise, disgust, enjoyment, fear, and sadness. (My interjection here, is awe is to emotions what umami is to flavors).
The article quotes Dacher Keltner, a psychologist at UC Berkeley, and author of the forthcoming book, Awe: The New Science of Everyday Wonder and How It Can Transform Your Life.” “But new research shows that awe “is its own thing,” he said. Our bodies respond differ
ently when we are experiencing awe than when we are feeling joy, contentment, or fear. We make a different sound, show a different facial expression. Dr. Keltner found that awe activates the vagal nerves, clusters of neurons in the spinal cord that regulate various bodily functions, and slows our h
eart rate, relieves digestion and deepens breathing.”
It also deactivates the critical voice in our heads that tells us we aren’t enough. We transcend. And according to the article, it’s new experiences or gravitating toward the unknown that opens us to more awe.
Art, meeting new people, and inspiring ideas can all generate awe. Experiencing nature is pretty much guaranteed to inspire awe. Plum and magnolia trees break out in blossoms. Galaxies of stars cluster above us. Herring trigger a frenzy in the bay. Springtime is coming. Let’s get outside and micro and macro dose on awe.