A Walk in the Woods

“Said the river: imagine everything you can imagine,then keep on going.”
~Mary Oliver

 

I went for a walk in the woods a few days ago. I love paths that are a bit wild and natural even in the middle of town. On this particular day, I am on one of my favorite trails; it meanders through  a dense patch of woods next to a big wide creek. The path has been left untouched for decades in many places and I love wandering there. But walking into some sections of this trail brings to mind Dorothy hesitantly walking into the dark scary woods with the scarecrow on her journey to Oz. Or maybe it’s Gretel wandering in the forest with Hansel, looking for her way home. Either way, the path can be a bit unnerving. I find myself humming that old Lou Reed song, “Walk on the Wild Side”, as I walk.

Deep dark untamed woods hold big, scary, archetypal energy for me and lots of other people; all those wild, uncivilized natural spaces where we might just meet something bigger and hungrier than us on the path. It is exciting and and enticing and scaryall at once. I think this is why our ancestors spent so much time trying to tame Mother Nature. Generation after generation of Americans have spent huge amounts of time and energy trying to corral and control Mother Nature;  e.g. clearing away the forests that once covered the northeastern US like they were tidying up a closet by throwing almost everything away. Or The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dredging and straightening and pushing around the Mississippi river decade after decade – we all saw how well that worked out for New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina made mincemeat of the Corps’ dykes.

Even logical and reasonable adults plant grass over mile after mile of suburban neighborhoods, then burn thousands of hours of free time and gallons of gasoline every weekend mowing their lawns down with military precision until the grass is a socially acceptable “tidy” length that resembles some perfectly green and uniform man-made carpet. We humans cannot seem to leave Nature to her own devices, can we?

Mother Nature scares the crap out of most humans. Mostof us either hide away in man-made homogenized boxes and pretend Nature doesn’t exist or we head out loaded for bear to try and kick Mother Nature’s butt and make her our bitch. In the end, neither way works very well.

I go visit an old tree every time I walk this path. Her diameter is larger than my wingspan. I remember the golden mean ratio – exactly how tall does that trunk diameter mean she is?  And how many rings does her trunk hold? Her rings must carry the wisdom and the history of this place at the edge of the path, this spot that she has anchored for at least 80 years . This tree has been here at the edge of this path for many, many years; she has seen all this human silliness before.

That’s where true wisdom comes from, being silent and still like an old tree; just absorbing what happens in whatever place I find myself today. And in taking the time to make the connections between what happens today and what happened yesterday on my path – and 2 years ago and 200 years ago. I need to remember to stop; get still, watch and listen to everything happening around me. And to take the time to reflect; to remember and store that longview of history like an old tree does.

I leave grandma tree and move on down the path. As I wander, I look up at the sky and realize that a storm is rapidly brewing on the horizon; it’s time to head for the safety of my house. Once home, I sit by the window in my study and watch the wind and rain thrash at the trees. Lightning splits the skyagain and again. Mother Nature is flexing her muscles. Even my tame garden seems a bit scary now. I watch the storm from a safe perch inside.

The path I choose again and again is not tame and civilized like a perfectly groomed suburban lawn. But it’s also not a solitary cabin surrounded by wilderness; I don’t require a life so wild and scary that I quiver with fear like the cowardly lion every time I venture out into the world.  I seem to constantly be searching for the middle path; in my mind I picture land on the boundary between wild woods and tame suburbs. That feels like the space where I belong.  It is the space where I feel most at home.

There has to be a way of living that is more in synch with my own inner nature. I want be find that way, to dig in and explore that middle path. I wonder if it is possible to live in way that is engaged with Mother Nature, fascinated and respectful of her powers rather than trying to subdue and mow and bend her to my will? And at the same time, can I develop a connection with Mother Nature so deep that I’m not left feeling completely helpless in her storms?

What is the middle path through this landscape? How do I become an actual friend and ally of Mother Nature? There are a thousand different opinions out there about how to walk softly on the earth; go vegan, buy local, grow your own, buy a hybrid, solar power… But I am wondering about diving deeper and making choices where I work with Mother Nature rather than doing things to her.

Whatever I choose has to come from my heart truly connecting with the natural world.  I wonder what will my life look like if I open up and deeply connect with Mother Nature? What would it look like to be close friends with this Earth? This feels like a shiftin my path… like rounding a bend on a trail and seeing a whole new vista opening up in front of me. And just like any great adventure, this new terrain is exciting and a little scary, but not too scary…

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