Natural Rhythms

ripples in sandThose who hear not the music think the dancers mad.

  • Unknown

“Either faster or slower,” Sammy said, “You’ll kill us at this speed.”

I slowed down as the pickup throbbed across the curve, the tires jolting each bump in the washboard texture of the dirt road. The throbbing stopped and I regained control. Pulling his feet down off the dashboard, Sammy relaxed a little, and gave me his “crazy bilaganna” look. I slowed some more.

I had driven quite a few dirt roads, but on the Navajo, they were the rule not the exception, so it was not unusual to drive long distances on them. Having to slow down for every set of washboards, the ripples that form on the gravel road surface, was extremely tedious when it was hot (no AC in government vehicles), dusty and a long way to go. Sammy was generally patient with me as a newcomer, but I could tell he often wondered how I had survived this long with so little real world experience.

So I learned that each washboard had a specific frequency, a rhythm, that allowed you to cruise through with less violent vibration. Slower, you caught each bump more gently; faster you skipped to just the top of the bumps. Out of sync, you bounced and jerked and could easily vibrate sideways off the road. Finding the rhythm was the trick.

When I became a better skier, I could tackle the intermediate and some expert slopes. However, the mogul-dense steep slopes were always a problem for me. The slope had a rhythm, usually carved out by the really good experts as they careened down the slope, over time cutting the moguls to the shape of their run and their rhythm.

My ski partner was a significantly better skier than I, but had more sense and was more careful. When we came to one of those steep, mogul slopes, I would drop over the lip of the run, and cut part-way down the face of the slope. Then I could size up the worst moguls to find the path that my knees could support to get me down more quickly, usually working the sides and getting downhill as much as possible. But, my partner would stop at the very top of the run and allow the slope to intimidate her. She would drop slowly from one mogul to the next, sliding sideways, falling and sometimes rolling down the slope. I tried in my ineffectual way to get her to go more downhill, not sideways, because that was the rhythm of the slope. They say really good skiers are afraid of heights, and relish the feel of going downhill fast, like falling off the mountain. She didn’t.

Several of us used to backpack together in the mountains, and we usually tried to stay grouped as we trundled along with our usually too-heavy packs. Each of us had a different pace, suited to our physical condition, the weight of our pack and the circumstances of the trail. Paul was a machine and walked the same speed regardless of the trail steepness or roughness. Bill was more relaxed, thoughtfully assessing the trail ahead and the requisite way to approach it. My pace was between theirs, walking faster downhill and slower on the uphill stints. We usually stopped briefly at the top of each major climb, and my companions liked to stop at the bottom to prepare for the the climb ahead. I preferred to keep moving at the bottom, get further up the climb and take a little longer break when there was less before us to surmount. Each pace on the trail reflected the rhythm unique to each one of us and the trail we traveled.

In a similar way, different beaches have different rhythms that change over time. Certainly wind, waves and tides affect the beach, but the steepness of the beach and the submerged bottom also controls the rhythm.

My friends and I waded out into the ocean, letting the waves run over our feet and gradually up our legs and torso. A few more steps to where the waves broke, unbalancing us and knocking us back. We stood with the waves washing up over our legs and I pushed out further, but others stopped just where the waves were breaking. Having more experience in the waves, I ducked under the breaking wave and pushed further out. I passed the breaking point of the waves and could bob up and down with each passing wave. I looked back to see them trying to stand up to the breaking waves, but finally retreating into the shallower water, unable or unwilling to push past.

Maybe it’s a special sensitivity that allows us to feel the rhythms. I can relate to some music, but frankly, there’s a lot of noise out there that is meaningless to me. I know people that are able to feel the weather shifts, or sense how other people are feeling. (I like the scene in a movie where the couple are arguing about washing the dishes. He finally agrees to do them and she replies that she doesn’t care if he does them, but she wants him to want to do them. He incredulously replies, “Why would I want to do them?”)

Each of us has a unique internal rhythm that fuels our actions and attitudes. We are at our best when we can align our personal rhythm with that of the situation we are in, whether it is something physical or something that requires thought and understanding. We get into the cycle of the seasons, the dynamics of our relationships, the pace of the office, and the rhythms of the road.

Just be careful, there will always be washboard ahead, and you’ll have to decide whether to speed up or slow down, push ahead or pull back.

Choose wisely. Those breaking waves can really beat you down if you don’t get a move on.

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