Currently Reading: Small Wonder by Barbara Kingsolver and My First Summer in the Sierra by John Muir
Fall has returned from its long hiatus, slipping silently into summer like a diver into water, without a splash. We greet each other as I sit under the tree where I sat a year ago. I see the ghost of myself a few feet off, head bent in concentration, her posture vibrating with nervousness and excitement, unsure of herself at the precipice of something new, yet ready to conquer. I salute her and pull my book from my bag, already stamping this place again with my memory. As the sun swims downward, I read my latest Barbara Kingsolver- a book of essays, the lyrical words and crisp fall breeze knitting a cocoon around my body. I read of hopes and fears and finding solace in the wild things. "Among the greatest of all gifts is to know our place." Yes. Me too. Always. Barbara Kingsolver has it- the magic of blending quiet words with a powerful voice. She pulls the detritus away and reveals shining nuggets of truth in mere sentences. It is a haunting power, and I eagerly sift through the debris with her. "People need wild places...We need to be able to taste grace and know once again that we desire it."
I look at the time and then at the woods nearby. There's time enough. Quietly I stuff the book away, hitch up my bag, and follow the steep trail into a grove of trees that quickly muffles the sights and sounds of students. I take my time, wending down the path, stopping to watch a chipmunk- their voices sound like the chirp of birds, how did I never know that- and coming to a little bridge, shielded from the bike path nearby, utterly alone and yet surrounded by life.
Slowly, I feel my mind stop its whirling dance, like a bird alighting on a fencepost. Letting go of the to-do lists written on the chalkboard inside my head, the endless litany of things to be done and things to worry over, I sink down and lay on the bridge. Pulling my body into various stretches, I breathe in and out, centering myself here, with the trees and the birds and the chipmunks. Now. Now is good. Feeling small is good. I lay down on the bridge, my gaze stretching up and I feel such a surge of love for the plants and animals. A connection thrums through my body like a plucked guitar string, bringing sudden tears to my eyes. I am part of this, I am of this, we are all of the same God. The trees above me seem so strong and enduring, but they are slowly being poisoned as I lay here, the whole earth bleeding out with each second that passes. The trees are the tangible past, our history, hundreds of years of days and nights that I get to witness. I wonder if the seedlings at my feet will someday stretch over the heads of my great-great-grandchildren or if this secret place will be a parking garage or a wasteland and trees will be beyond memory. And I feel such love and protectiveness for this massive system which is dying, but I cannot save it and I am filled with despair.
I stand and breathe in the oxygen these trees are making for me. I exhale some carbon for them. We feed each other. I feel so whole in the green silences, as I always do, as if I found something I forgot I was missing. In the wildness, I can let myself be me in a way I cannot in the world of people. The trees watch me with no judgment, no agenda, and I whisper promises we cannot keep to the leaves that flutter like fragments of paper above me. We could learn from the trees, ways of being that could save our souls. To watch and listen and let others be. To stand firm, but without malice or judgment. To understand our place and the larger picture we fit into. To love without destruction. I want to fill myself with the trees, with their knowledge and patience and beauty, and carry it with me like a talisman against all of the things I cannot change. I lift my arms above my head, like a child begging to be picked up, waiting to be anointed. Trying to slip my fingers into this awesome silence, offering my prayers and holy words to the caverns of leaves and branches above.
The sun is low. As I turn and walk on, the chime of bells from a campus building swells into the silence, the capstone of the sanctuary's architecture. There is still hope. There has to be.
"Look and listen for the welfare of the whole people and have always in view not only the present but also the coming generations, even those whose faces are yet beneath the surface of the ground- the unborn of the future Nation." ~ The Constitution of the Iroquois Nations