a double haiku:
even in the midst
of coronavirus fear
this earth speaks to me.
dirt beneath our feet
embraced by walls of red rock.
it’s beating my heart.
“and into the woods i go to lose my mind and find my soul.” john muir
the green makes me breathe differently. the scent of the underbrush, of towering pine trees, of the breeze brushing by me, whispering sweet nothings. the sounds of rustling leaves, of birdcalls, of the crunch of my feet. the green.
entering a different space entirely, i succumb to the green. my mind slows down a bit, my pulse in tandem. my steps are less frantic; frenzy is left at the side of the gravel, at the side of the dirt worn down by the tread of other soul-quenching-seekers. this is the lure of the trail.
“in the woods we return to reason and faith.” ralph waldo emerson
the green makes me think differently. we are silent. we talk. we review. we ponder. mostly, we take one step after another. in beauty. we remember this place, this earth, this universe. we remember it is simply on loan to us. just for the briefest of times. our tiny flash of star is ephemeral. and, simultaneously, it is on loan to billions of other people, all just as deserving of the green as we are.
“each and every one of us can make changes in the way we live our lives and become part of the solution to climate change.” al gore
we simply cannot deny climate change any longer. the apocalyptic weather events across our nation point their – rightfully – accusing fingers at this nation, a nation financing the denial of this climate crisis. this place, victim to colossal weather events, massive wildfires, eroding shorelines, calving glaciers and shrinking arctic, human-contaminated air and water, disregard for the preservation of natural resources, big-money-agenda-ized lands. we have a responsibility to this good earth, which has nurtured and fed and watered us throughout our lives. we need preserve it. there will be those who follow. they will need the green.
“i don’t want your hope. i don’t want you to be hopeful. i want you to panic and act as if the house was on fire.” greta thunberg
shall we all participate in the evanescence of the green? or shall we all fight for the sustenance of this mother earth?
it is our meditation, our respite, our rejuvenation, to hike. so we find trails everywhere we go. our old hiking boots have stories of mountains and deserts, forests and rivers, dunes and sidewalks.
we choose to trek instead of anything else. for we have found that “in every walk with nature, one receives far more than one seeks.” (john muir, naturalist)
in these times of pandemic, our travel has been of limited scope. we have taken seriously the words of fervent scientists and medical experts to stay close to home, to wear masks, to social distance, to be always aware of putting self and others at risk. and so our spectrum of hiking trails has been reduced in range, the radius from our home none too large.
the river we hike along is well-known to us now. we know the curves in the trail; we know the bend in the river and where the water laps at the bank. we anticipate the small turtles on the rock in the tributary; we expect the butterflies to be numerous as we pass the field of wildflowers. we know where the mile markers are before we see them. we know where the mosquitoes will swarm. it doesn’t change anything for us. we still go. we still hike. for “into the forest i go to lose my mind and find my soul.” (john muir)
each time we start we are aware of how very familiar this place is. each time we finish we are aware of seeing it with fresh eyes. marcel proust’s words, “the real act of discovery consists not in finding new lands but in seeing with new eyes” comes to life with every booted step.
the place we go, the haven we seek, are trails that let us be quiet, trails that let us talk, trails that make us tired, trails that invigorate us. they need not be new.
each time we take any of our beloved trails or walks in the general radius of our sweet home we breathe air into anxious hearts, solace into worried minds, we stretch stress-tensed bodies, we are mindful of glimpses of eased souls, we draw inspiration from this good earth, we find the new in old.
this butterfly must have known. my heart was aching and the steps i was taking down the trail were heavy. and then it appeared.
the glimmer of its wings caught my eye, this iridescent blackish-blue, a red-spotted purple butterfly, inviting me to stop, watch. it flew around me and i twirled in place watching as it circled. it landed on the trail time and again, close enough for me to video it opening and closing its wings, a greeting of sorts. my breathing slowed down. beauty exists.
even in the midst of everything negative, even in the midst of worry, angst, missing, deconstruction, transformation, reinvention, heartwrenching choices, beauty exists. even in the midst of a pandemic and unrest and a country in chaos, beauty exists.
a little research: apparently, my little friend, the red-spotted purple butterfly, looks much like a pipevine swallowtail. the swallowtail butterfly deters predators by being mightily distasteful. the red-spotted purple butterfly has piggybacked onto the swallowtail’s predatory resistance by its similar markings, albeit without a tail. predators sometimes shy away from this butterfly based on the vulgar taste of its close-but-not-related twin. a good scheme. and yet this butterfly – beautifully exquisite, and, although somewhat protected, is still vulnerable.
this red-spotted purple butterfly visit was serendipitous. i needed to slow down. i needed to watch this creature as it invited the sunlight to warm its wings and aid in its nectar-picnic. i needed to be reminded of the butterfly in all its transitions – its metamorphosis through life, its graceful acceptance of its own life-arc, its changes, its patience, its endurance.
the next times i walk on this trail i will likely think of these two butterflies: both beautiful and both trying to sustain, to gather nectar, to complete their own circles of life. but one with such a vulgarity to it, such an acidity that predators stay away. very few are lost in the lesson that predators are quickly taught about its toxicity; animals learn to avoid them. i wonder about these swallowtails in community with other butterflies. and i think about the red-spotted purple, sans toxicity, trying courageously to protect itself in its habitat. it looks a little like a swallowtail, but it’s not. it doesn’t poison the animal who consumes it.
much like people. we look much the same. each of us, beautifully exquisite. and yet. some pipevine swallowtails, toxic and cunning. some red-spotted purples, pure and vulnerable.
quiet. we walk in quiet most of the time. even our longer hikes are quiet. it is a time of rest for us, rest from the noise of the rest of life, the noise of worry and angst, the noise of dispute, the noise of too much bad news, the noise of chaos. we listen to the birds and our footfalls on the trail. we listen to the wind and the sound of creatures rustling in the underbrush. the quiet calms us; the quiet lifts the cellophane from the magic slate cardboard, it shakes the etch-a-sketch and takes it all back to zero, back to start, back to a rainwashed driveway waiting to be chalked all over again.
having run out of everest, k2 and annapurna footage we are watching appalachian trail and pacific crest trail and john muir trail videos these days. on our own treks locally we decide which one of these to take, listing the specific merits of each. make no mistake, these are serious treks. the AT is 2190 miles from georgia to maine. the PCT is 2653 miles from the border of mexico to the border of canada. the JMT, joining with the PCT some of the way, is 211 miles through the sierras, high elevation pass after pass. clearly, the training needed would be intense. but, as we envision this extended trekking, we are drawn to the quiet. the noise of this world has become raucous and the woods and the mountains seem to beckon with absolution, with grace, with rejuvenation.
there used to be a button on the cassette player that you could push that would quicken the pace of the tape to the end: fast forward. it would seem these trails, this quiet, like sleep, would fast forward through the dark and bring you to the light once again. these trails – this quiet – remind you that next comes.
and so, the noise of the day will cease. and you can listen to the sound of your footfall on a new day, ready to be chalked.
we took a hike on easter sunday afternoon. it was just warm enough to shed my coat in the woods; spring hiking is better without the shush-shushing sound of a down coat while you walk.
we went to our bristol woods, masks in pockets as we jumped out of big red, eager to get into the trees, onto the paths that have soothed us. there were a few people there; most of them abided by the six-feet-apart rule, although admittedly, there were a few who caused us to roll our eyes in an astonished unspoken question wondering if they lived in a cave somewhere and had no idea that there was a global pandemic.
the familiar paths did their job. we quietly noticed green sprigs springing up between the leaves, a tonal green as you looked off-path from budding underbrush. here and there forest daffodils at the brink of opening to the world; here and there small white flowers nestled between fallen logs.
the soundtrack of the woods was awakening to spring – orioles’ songs, chipmunks scampering, birds we couldn’t see high in the trees singing arias to the sky, the sound of our feet on the trail.
the gunfire in the background was unwelcome in this reverie of renewal, of spring-really-on-its-way, of escape-from-thoughts-of-covid-19. it was an automatic, a gun designed to kill, single shots punctuated by the rapidfire of a clip. it is always unnerving; yesterday it was particularly so. it seemed mindless to me, paying no homage to these very times, these very days.
in the middle of thousands of people who are desperately trying to save over half a million others’ lives in this country alone, thousands of people who are extending helping hands to countless others, thousands of people who are dedicating resources to feed, mask, shelter thousands of others, thousands of people who are reeling from a loss of life, of job, of any security, of any sense of normal, thousands of people who are frightened to their core that they might be the next to succumb to this pervasive illness, the next to struggle to breathe, i couldn’t, for the life of me, figure out any good reason to be shooting an automatic weapon.
we bought snowpants. on sale for only $7 they are a wise investment for two people who hike year-round out in the woods or wherever we are. it’s a big deal for us to buy anything new so, this time, instead of looking at them every day and saving them for good (ala beaky) we celebrated our good deal by putting them on, going out in the snowy woods and hiking.
we were pretty much silent. you could hear snow falling from the trees and the crunching of our boots on the trail. but we didn’t talk much. with so many things to talk to about and the woods being our best meeting room it was unusual. but sometimes, it is silence that is most needed.
our path, like this stream, has zigged and zagged. it has brought us past jagged rocky times and through sweet gentle lapping pools. it has been lit by warm sun and darkened by the deep worry of late night.
but one thing is always consistent in the inconsistency of life. no matter how we arrive in the woods, no matter the angst we bring. arm in arm, because it is our habit, we walk through the woods. arm in arm on the trail we silently hike toward quieting our hearts and minds. under trees older than our troubles, arm in arm walking reaches past even anger-inspired words, things spoken in frustration. arm in arm we remember all that is good, all that is certain. the day’s hurdles and fears and unease fade as the sun sets. and we zag.
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the road from here to there is oft not straight. the way the crow flies is irrelevant. “the only way there is through,” joan told me quite some time ago. we were talking about grief. i had lost my sweet momma and it felt brutal; at any age the loss of a parent is profound. i was talking to joan about it – about getting to the other side of the grief. and she told me that the only way there was through it. a winding trail it was, with switchbacks and no guardrails.
that has happened for me with each encounter with grief. there is nothing easy about it, nothing straight. the grief of loss, the grief of instability, the grief of anxiety, the grief of fear, the grief of insecurity, the grief of aging, the grief of failure, the grief of change, in all its rampant forms.
and yet, out hiking, winding trails are my preference. a hike that takes me past hidden-treasure-vistas, a hike where i cannot see the end from the beginning, a hike that surprises at each turn. these winding trails are gifts in the woods, in the mountains, in between red rock formations high in elevation. there is much to see, much to learn about. they are journeys of not-knowing. they are journeys of wonder, of revelation.
we are not crows; no flightpath in our lives will be straight, no endpoint clear in our sight, no one thing all the way from here to there, no vector traveled without veering a bit off-course. even reverse-threading our lives will not reveal a straight path; instead it will reveal a vast horizon of ping-ponging and circuitous route-making. we will most definitely wind around, through decisions and opportunities, missed marks and challenges at the goal line, defining and re-defining. living.
which winds me back to joan’s wise words of years ago, which i can still hear her saying. the only way from here to there is through. winding trail and all.
“all of us have special ones who have loved us into being. would you just take, along with me, ten seconds to think of the people who have helped you become who you are….ten seconds of silence.” (mr. fred rogers)
he brought it up on the trail. the movie we had recently seen. not an action thriller or a mystery. just a movie about a man who changed the world. mr. fred rogers.
quietly hiking on the trail, he broke the walking-arm-in-arm silence, “i’ve been thinking about all those people. those people who loved me into existence.”
what could you possibly be more grateful for? that trail of thought found us yesterday morning and wove its way into all day, skirting along the edges as we cooked, back into the center on facetime, at the table with wine glasses, in a late night text out of the blue.
the people who love you into being.
mr. rogers got more specific, ” from the time you were very little, you’ve had people who have smiled you into smiling, people who have talked you into talking, sung you into singing, loved you into loving.” what kind of legacy do you have to be known for this kind of wisdom? it changes everything.
the people who love you into being.
we spoke of these people on and off all day and late into the night. there was a moment i could feel shadows that were cast by any of those we talked about falling off, light covering the shadow. reasons. seasons.
the people who love you into being.
too many to list. too many to remember. we backtracked and stood still in our memories, telling stories and finding wonder as names – and the dear picture of that person in our mind’s eye – spilled out of us. a wealth of being-makers. every one of them a builder in the construction of some piece of us, like a giant box of tinkertoys or lincoln logs or even crayons. so much potential. a wildly wide spectrum of color and characteristic, texture and depth. profoundly moving. a tiny bit of shake-up. both.
the people who love you into being.
ten seconds. nowhere near long enough.
GRATEFUL from AS IT IS ©️ 2004 kerri sherwood