The older woman wore a light trench coat and running shorts, her hair pulled back in a pony-tail with a baseball cap half covering her defined brows. She dressed in a half-effort to be seasoned for winter, and the other half for summer. The first time I noticed her the air was crisp, the light was barren, and the grayness of the clouds hid the sun draining any light visibility. She smiled approvingly while mist danced slowly in the backdrop of my view. From her seat on the boat balcony, she should have been freezing - but the gleaming look on her face implied otherwise. It was apparent -- as we rode between the exquisite, lush mountain ranges of Queenstown -- that the darkening weather was no match for the natural beauty that encapsulated the traveler's eyes.
I admired this woman. She demanded no companionship; she needed no proof of the magic before her. She drew mental pictures with her eyes, observing richly, alone and in silence.
She appeared to desire nothing but small pleasures.
Who was she? And how did she become that person?
The portrait of the older woman, beautiful and simple, surfaced a year old memory of someone I remember fondly. His name was Liad, and when we first met I gauged him to be thirty years old, with a tan face that looked wise with age. Fixated by the sand-colored eyes with an unwavering, genuine gaze, I could tell immediately there were no secrets behind their kindness. His hair was burly and mangled, with a beard untrimmed over his defining jaw. When he hugged me, a blanket of warmth enveloped me in a way that invited love. It takes a certain type of person to exhibit unadulterated love with nothing beyond an honest hug, but that was just Liad's way of life.
On the afternoon we met, with the summer heat melting over my bare shoulders, Liad forged a path with his small, shaky car while I rode trustingly into the unknown. He plowed through grassy plains, probably once a prospering wild garden that was reduced to crumbling thickets of weeds and walked us down a hidden trail. A calming trance loomed pleasantly all the way down to the water's edge, where we bathed in the Jordan River. I cusped cold water every so often and splashed it over my eyes, head tilted back staring at the sky. When a cool breeze tickled the air, it felt exhilarating. The weather pierced my skin, but with a gleaming look on my face, my thoughts drifted far beyond the heat of the sun.
Down at the river, I remember the echoing laughter that day in Northern Israel. Together we loved to laugh; some time after that afternoon we met we often exhausted the night sky to sleep with laughter.
When the first day expired, we retired to Liad's family home, where his mother fed us generously as we sat in their family living room, walls filled with stories from around the world. Wooden artifacts and collections of rich history draping from all corners were tokens of their devout love and respect for the local artist.
Out the front door and down the hill, was a passageway leading to a place that felt less like the present and more like the past. It was a fruit orchard that in its earliest incarnation consisted of nothing but barren land, and was now transformed into community space.
The people who passed through the orchard astounded us newcomers with their lives in fine tune with the surrounding nature, all deeply engaged in discovering the meaning of life. They raised animals and collected fruits to eat and share and spent time outdoors and read and dreamed. Amongst the community of people, most all dreamed of self-sufficiency. They were fantastic beings, desiring few things but treasuring small pleasures.
Wealth, status, prestige ceased to exist, living only by the laws of the land. Henry David Thoreau once said, "as you simplify life the laws of the universe will be simpler." There were limited distractions in the minimalist society I had entered, with a radiating energy that I envied.
Before I met Liad I carried a lot of things. Material things. Heavy things. Possessions that weighed down upon my shoulders unforgivingly. But I had been willingly absorbed into Liad's world in search of an arcane idea of utopia, subconsciously trying to figure out who I was and the evolution to that self. Often our own independent thinking is made aware by the independent thinking envisioned by those around us. Our experiences are entwined with numerous thought-processes that directly, or indirectly, alter our mindsets and behavior.
In the fruit orchard, I vowed to observe the modesty of people like Liad, who are less concerned with extraneous things and more concerned with deeper human connections. His very natural, independent thinking made me sharply aware of my own mindset, providing evidence that minimalism is synonymous with a utopian society.
With the vision of the woman gazing out at the serene, blue waters I transported to this reflection on the sense of self, inseminated by human intellect. Was there also a great human in her life whose subtle manipulation of thoughts made her a woman of the land? In my mind she exuded a possessing wonder by ignoring the sounds of the steam engine and the people around her, everywhere. She had that exhilaratingly free look in her eyes like someone who has seen hope turn into reality. I implanted a mental picture of the woman for my time capsule.
There in the mist and the fog, I found clarity.