I used to subscribe to Orion Magazine. It is a beautiful, thoughtful magazine meshing philosophy, poetry, ecology, and social justice into one format. I have a couple of back issues near me and I pulled one out and re-read a wonderful article in it where the author muses on a sense of place while looking for mushrooms with his young toddler. I had to share this article with someone and so I emailed a link. I hoped she’d understand it. No, not understand it… feel it in her bones.
Today I went out for a walk. Yes there was an NFL playoff game on the television (and a good one too). But I had not been on a walk in a while. I was antsy. My mind incapable of being in one spot for long. Fragmented and ungrounded, I longed for the outside world. So with the game going into halftime I turned off the t.v., grabbed my prayer beads, and left.
Outside it was nearing rush hour and traffic was starting to pile up on Hall Street. The distant highway gave a rushing sounds that was not unlike river if I chose to ignore it to a certain extent. I am fortunate that I live a block away from Fanno Creek Park and it is a very short walk to get to where I can turn from the mundane sounds of traffic and surround myself with tree and birdsong.
The sky was a wool blanket grey and a very light rain, collected in beads upon my fleece hat and branch alike. Above me I heard the tell-tale whistlings of ducks in flight, a sort of wew-wew-wew-wew-wew-wew-wew as a mated pair of mallards flew overhead. I smiled. After moving for a considerable distance into the park I realized I had not collected one bead on my prayer beads. I do not recite prayers or rosaries, but I use them to slow my breathing down, sort of like pranayama, at least as far as my limited understanding goes. I held the handmade prayer beads in my hand and took a breath. They are three groups of three beads separated by a darker bead repeated overall three times for a total of 108 beads. Nine is a sacred number in Celtic cosmology and the way that three weaves in and out of threes and nines (and 1+0+8=9) is a reminder to me to remember the hidden connections of which I am ignorant of. As I walked I would take one more bead, one more deep breath, when/if I felt connected to the world around me. Many times I would stop on the path and simply watch the world around me, imaginary roots extending from my shoes and through the pavement trail and into the dark soil beneath. The Earth is always beneath but I don’t always feel it.
The light rain gained a slight intensity. A steady drip began to cascade down my face. My cheeks were wet. My light jacket was not as waterproof as expected and dampness began to secret its way into my layers underneath. Yet I was happy and content and trying to let the unfettered thoughts of my mind fly off into the horizon and to leave me with some sense of balance and centeredness without the constant chatter.
One more bead.
My phone beeped, telling me that I had received an email. I was on a pilgrim’s walk of communion and might have ordinarily not checked the phone. But I was also curious if the email I sent earlier got a response… if she really got it. The reply was a simple picture of her dressed in clothes appropriate for moving about the mountains in an Oregon spring (wet and chilly), holding a bucket of collected mushrooms, and with a contented/happy smile. I felt a wave of longing from within spill out over my walls. No essay was necessary from her… I understood by looking at the photo. Rooted in place I watched as some crows flew overhead and lit in the tops of an oak.
One more bead.
Further I moved along a trail and came to a known bee’s nest in a tree hollow. No activity at all. I do not the species of bee that lives in the tree and therefore do not know if they hibernate or the hive has died or if they have relocated. Though I’ve been stung once by a member of this hive, my hope is that they are merely hibernating. Mental note to self, provide some sugar for their return/awakening in the spring.
One more bead.
I walked back toward home. My mind was like a racing horse in the starting gate, waiting for when I left the boundaries of the park that would signal for it to unleash its frantic energy. I thought of the homework that I had to do for my philosophy classes. I thought of the presentation/lecture that I am giving at a convention in March and how it was in a dire need of a fresh revamping and editing. I thought of other books that are calling me and dormant ideas that I’ve ignored but which were important/sacred/motivational for me in the past; ideas like environmentalism, ancient forest campaigns, and watershed ecology. I thought of other ideas of community and roles, of gender identity and roles, of partnerships/relationships/marriages and roles, of returning soldiers and PTSD and suicide and roles, of communication and openness. My mind swam and as I neared the edge of the park, my communion now finished, it burst into a million directions, barely able to keep one thought for long before another association/tangent/shooting star took its place.
I want to slow down, to let my roots sink into the soil, into the earth, into the chthonic realm of our ancestors (and isn’t all dead things somehow our ancestors?) and to draw nutrients from them as a hemlock from a nurse log. While one part of the tree grows upward toward the light, another part is growing down into the dark. To contemplate the tree is to have both halves without which the tree is not. Find my balance, my center, and grow.