Arbor Lee


Mindful Field Notes is an online journal of writing and photography by Arbor Lee | Oh My Darling Days. 

Mindful Field Notes Journal

 to receive journal post updates directly to your inbox


Deep Attention

The kind of deep attention that we pay as children is something that I think we all can cherish and reclaim because attention is that doorway to gratitude, the doorway to wonder, the doorway to reciprocity.  - Robin Wall Kimmerer 
 Circa 1979. 

Circa 1979. 

I love this photo of my nine year old self. I remember sitting on the sidewalk in front of a saguaro cactus in my yard, attempting to sketch its ribbed and spiny details. We had recently moved from the humid forests and green hills of North Carolina to the arid landscape of the Sonoran Desert. I was learning a new way of looking at the natural world. Rock and cacti landscapes had replaced my wooded yard. Instead of meandering moist earthen paths covered in pine needles, I walked on lifeless concrete sidewalks. In place of glowing fireflies and the chorus of tiny tree frogs there were scaly lizards and the cacophony of chirping cicadas. I could no longer run barefooted through a stream or meadow and bare feet on hot pavement was nothing to desire. The closest I came to walking barefoot was the summer I wore sandals that I made from cereal boxes. Cut to the shape of my feet, I strapped the thin cardboard soles to my feet with ribbon. Even then, the desert heat blistered through. The sidewalks were so hot you could actually cook an egg— something I tested out more than once.

The day that this photo was taking must have been winter. The long sleeves and long pants are a good sign, along with the fact that I'm sitting on the sidewalk. I don't remember the final drawing but I do remember the contrast between where I had been and this new desert home. And I remember that single saguaro that emerged from the center of our front yard. Unlike a tree, it didn't offer any shade but its towering height, its thick green flesh, its spiky surface were intriguing. I imagine that I tried to capture its majestic size. I imagine that I moved close enough to notice the shape and smoothness of each spine, how they radiated out in clusters like medieval caltrops. I imagine that I dared to touch one of the thorny tips and quickly learned not to do that again.

When I look at this photo, I see the part of me that is curious and wants to know more, who asks "why" and "how" and thrives in inquiry. I recognize the part of me that sees detail and appreciates the natural world in all its wondrous forms. I see the part of me whose creative expression grows from deep attention— zooming in for a closer look, exploring with all my senses, and pausing in silence for a deeper listen. And I celebrate how my sense of childlike wonder has resurfaced. It has opened the door to gratitude and sacred connection.

When I look at this photo, I remember the core of who I am— my expressive hands, my curious mind, my sensitive heart, my sense of mindful exploration. I celebrate the journey that brought me to this reclaimed relationship with mindfulness and deep attention. It has reopened my hands, my mind, my heart, my life.