Minding the Sky up on the roof

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BY JUDITH WALCUTT, July 11, 2013

I’ve been spending quite a bit of time up on our roof lately to administer to the moss problem and admire the view.  From up there, I have a perfectly spectacular vantage point from which to enjoy Mount Baker in the far distance and the rippling, sky-colored waves of Holmes Harbor in the middle distance. At the farthest water’s edge, there is the shore on the other side whose changes of light in the course of a day have made me want to drop everything, drive over to that white spit of land that arrives and vanishes with the changing of the tides, take a seat on a beached log, and watch it come and go until the sun sets and the stars pop.

The view from my roof in Freeland looks out over Holmes Harbor. (Photo by the author)

The view from my roof in Freeland looks out over Holmes Harbor. (Photo by the author)

Instead of running away from home on these recent sunny days, though, I keep at the moss abatement project, scraping away at the greenery that has sprouted in the time we have been away.  Last year alone our cumulative absence added up to about five months. On these amazing, blazing, and spectacularly blue and glittering summer days, I am happy to be home and to be up on the upper deck of my little ship, the kooky, odd-shaped house of my dreams on Honeymoon Bay.

While I’m up there, though, I’ve got a notebook in which I keep track of ideas and thoughts for things I am writing, so I don’t have to feel too guilty about being up on the roof on a beautiful day, rather than down in the basement with a screen and keyboard. Truthfully, for me, being up on the roof is a kind of spiritual practice. It is a great place from which to mind the sky and be thoughtful with each footstep; it is a good physical metaphor for practicing skillful means and joyous perseverance at the same time. You can see the big picture and your postage stamp-sized place within it, while looking out over the tree-tops and listening to the whistling of the eagle careening overhead. You can contemplate square foot by square foot, the specific nature of caring for your home.

Of course, I’ve always liked being on the roof. I tell that to people and they look at me funny—and suggest that I might consider the dangers of falling from heights. I explain that I’ve been running around roofs ever since I can remember and at one point in my crazy non-sequitor career, I worked for a woman-owned weatherization company in Seattle.  It was actually my job to get up on tall ladders and caulk the rooflines of low-income households, to keep cold air from infiltrating and driving energy bills up.

That was one of my favorite non-writing gigs ever. Energy conservation is a great cause; they were fine people to work for; I worked outside and I learned a few practical things besides. I became, for instance, an expert window glazer in the process. I cut and replaced glass in windows that needed it and was able to cut a line of putty with the best of them.   I feel confident on the roof, but not overly confidant. It’s good to refrain from over-confidence on the roof, because it is possible to fall and do serious damage to oneself and others in the process.  My non-cocky confidence comes of darting about the peaks and slopes since I was a child and, like riding a bicycle, I have never forgotten how.

One of the great treats of our childhood summer was being permitted to climb the roof of the beach cottages to which we migrated directly after school got out.  Our family place was located in the heart of a weathered, pine-filled woods on Fire Island, which is a slender barrier beach between Long Island and the Atlantic Ocean.  When we arrived there after a very long, hot drive from my home town in New Jersey, we took a ferry boat from Sayville, Long Island across the Great South Bay, and came to a place which boasted no cars, no electricity, no phones, and in some cases, no indoor plumbing.    We had both indoor and outdoor showers and while we had a flushing toilet, we also kept an outhouse for old times’ sake, since that was a remnant from the time when my parents first put stakes down on the island, right after World War Two ended.

We knew we had arrived in Paradise officially as we ran down the winding, hidden path among the Pines and bayberry that led to our house. We dropped our bags on the porch by the front door, ran around to the back of the house, and climbed up the slanted roof of the shed which was attached to the outside of the house and offered us a perfectly pitched incline to scale.  Arriving on the peak of the roof, screaming our lungs out, we became the wildness all around us, announcing that summer had arrived and we with it.

I don’t know why my parents weren’t more nervous about my sister, brother, and I spending lengthy periods of time up there—having lunch in a shady corner, reading comics on a beach blanket on the gently sloping pitch, melting crayons on paper in the heat of the summer day as a form of art work, or just watching the sunset from up there, when we didn’t feel like walking down to the bay to see it.  I guess they just trusted us not to do anything unthinking like jump off the roof or accidently-on-purpose push each other off, like siblings might do.

Miraculously, we did have the sense to be aware, even from a fairly young age, while still enjoying the thrill of being up high and able to see to the bay shining beyond the trees and dense brush surrounding us. We were learning something primary up there on that roof. We were learning to trust ourselves to be safe in a potentially hazardous circumstance, to watch our steps, to refrain from harmful action to ourselves and each other, to be conscious of the edge and not go over it.  That seems to be a very good life lesson to get embedded at an early age and I am grateful to our parents for taking the risk with us, letting us try it out under fairly benign circumstances.

Up on the roof these days, I practice the way of careful abiding.  I focus my mind and use my hands and body thoughtfully.  In the process, I am clearing my head, while I consider what to write next, what to think next, what to become next–after the roof is clean and the house is clean, and the way is open for good news to arrive at the door.  All the while, I watch my step and remember to cast my eyes up, grasp the beauty of it all, and mind the sky, which, like my mind, goes everywhere, even while scraping the moss.

Judith Walcutt is a Buddhist and an award-winning writer for radio, TV, and stage, alive and well on Whidbey Island for a quarter century. She is currently rewriting reams of fiction and editing a collection of poems.


Upcoming Event: 

To learn more about minding your own mind, so that you too can be a good sky-minder on the roof or anyplace else, join me for Direct Mind Perception Mediation teachings given by Lama Lena Feral in “The Flight of the Garuda,” from 10 a.m. to noon and 3 to 5 p.m.on Saturday, July 13; and 10 am. to noon Sunday, July 14 at 835 6th St. in Langley.

With nearly 40 years of dharma study and practice, Lama Lena, under the tutelage of her root teacher, Venerable Wangdor Rinpoche, spent seven years in retreat in a small cave above Tso Pema – home of the Holy Caves of Guru Rinpoche. She is known to many as a teacher of Direct Mind Perception Meditation. Others may have met her during the nearly 30 years she has traveled with and translated for Wangdor Rinpoche, whose lineage in both Dzogchen and Chagchen she holds.

The teachings are open to everyone. In accordance with Tibetan custom, there is no set fee, rather dana ─ a pali word for generosity ─ is offered to the teacher. Please bring your cushion and water bottle and dress for weather. Stores and restaurants are a short walk away in Langley.

Contact Lynn Hays at 360-221-2350 or email her at tenaly@whidbey.com for more information.


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