This outlook has a view of tangled forest to the south and east. Broken tree tops, remnants from a monumental ice storm nearly two years ago, give the woods and unkept appearance; not that wild areas are ever in perfect order, but these woods appear chaotic much like the storm that devastated this woodland twenty months ago. Still, the woods in the valley below are green and the birds sing without abandon.
I sometimes come to this location to sort things out. It is a mile into the woods up the side of a north facing slope and part of the way down the opposing south facing slope. Save for the noise from an airplane every once in a while there are few distractions.
After settling in, which includes finding just the right place to sit where I can have some back support, I find myself leaning against a rocky outcrop that is rife with pale green lichen. My bottom rests on a mossy cushion of an old decaying log and my feet are firmly planted on a rock shelf. The rock shelf has a precarious 40 foot drop only about three feet in front of me and the ledge trail that leads to this spot is only about two feet wide. The trail is used by porcupine, white tailed deer, and bobcat to name a few of the travelers that might find there way only this rocky path. It is the middle of the afternoon so I do not expect any wild visitors on this day.
I’m here because this is my chapel. The forest is the special place I come to become centered. I really don’t like it when things are so far out of order that they become unrecognizable. It is comforting to make sense of things; not always an easy task when looking at the world through my eyes. This place is restorative to me. It has the power to make a difference. It is a place where I have put back together my spirit, thought through some difficult problems, and found new energy for life. I think everyone has a place like this and if they don’t they probably need one. Some find their peace in a church, synagogue, or mosque. Some find their solace amongst friends in a more casual setting. Still, others may find harmony at a public event like a prayer meeting, meditation center, or through a yoga class.
I am at this particular spot because it feels right. The first time I found this ledge more than 30 years ago I felt as if it were magical. I’m not sure why these places exist in the natural world, they just do. This little corner of the forest surrounded by steep hills and narrow valleys is transparent. I can feel and see dimensions that I cannot easily be in touch with anywhere else.
On this day there is a gentle breeze that blows across the slope to the west of me. The air is clean and pure and with each breath I feel calm enter my body. I keep my eyes open but they are focused on nothing. I absorb bird song, the fresh smell of the vegetation that surrounds me, and sunlight filtered by the overhead leaves. I can hear gray squirrels scurrying in the leaves below the ledge where they are likely harvesting bounty from the red oak and American beech trees in the form of acorns and beechnuts. The ambience is simple and that is good.
An occasional acorn drops from the red oak that sits atop the highest part of the ledge. The acorns are huge this year and make a distinct snapping sound when they hit the hard schist bedrock. Some sound as if they crack wide open and others make more of a thud. I wonder for a moment if the cracked acorns germinate easier and are more successful at producing small saplings. I don’t try to encourage the distractive thought. That is the real reason I am here: to enjoy the forest and marvel about all of it’s wonders. This always gives me nearly complete clarity.
The breeze blows a few overhanging branches aside and some sun rays dance on my skin. A wood thrush clears the air with a perfect whistle. It seems to cleanse my soul.
On this day I wish to think about the Great Spirit. Some call the Great Spirit God. Others are doubtful that such an entity exists, but they do not reject it outright. Growing numbers in our world refer to all this as foolishness, a myth perpetuated by the fear of death.
In my mind the Great Spirit has nothing to do with death and everything to do with life. I believe everything is a part of the larger whole; nothing is disconnected. Sub-atomic particles, atoms, molecules, the basic elements of the periodic chart, single cells, flora, fauna, rocks, mountains, glaciers, the ocean, atmosphere, moon, sun, stars, asteroids, comets, galaxies, and the universe are all part of one organism. Beyond human understanding there are forces that direct and redirect the energies within this organism. We get glimpses of these energies by those in our species with the greatest intelligence when they present quantum theory, string theory, quantum holograms, and dimensions that they know are present but cannot yet be measured by human technology. Ironically, for those of us who believe the calculations of higher science it requires faith in those that present this information.
Faith is a funny concept. Originally principally applied to the belief in God it is now something that can be applied to science. I do not have the time or intelligence to completely understand some of these amazingly complex theories. Even when I get the boiled down version through Steven Hawking or others who are adept at explaining these complex theories to the masses it requires faith that they are on the right track. That does not mean that we have a complete understanding of the universe around us but it does mean that we may be looking in the right direction.
I have faith. I believe in instinct. I sit in these quiet woods that have changed so much with time. I sit on the remains of rock that once stood higher than the Rocky Mountains and now are merely a hill. I sit near a red oak that is more than 400 years old and has witnessed the forest in the lower valley below go from forest to field and back to forest over the last 250 years. I hear the chatter or a red squirrel claiming his territory as squirrels have done for thousands of years. I feel a fresh breeze blowing in a Canadian high pressure area that will bring bright sun and blue skies to this area as has been happening for millenniums. I am a witness to the present, but I have to believe and have faith that what is happening now is part of and will forever be connected to the past and future. I understand that this planet is one living organism and that we must respect every element of this planet in order for it to remain in good health. I know that we came from the earth and will return to the earth and will remain part of this planet for eons and eons. And in all of this I find comfort and humility.
I wonder if this place, my chapel, would feel the same to others, or if each person must find their own place where faith, hope, wonder, and wisdom all seem to fit together.
A red tailed hawk swoops between the branches and comes to rest on a branch directly in my view. It looks east at the forest floor in search of sustenance. Seeing none he turns in the other direction and looks directly at me sitting not 50 feet away on the rock ledge. The yellow-green eyes of the red tail look directly at me. I sit still trying to remain motionless. The red tail does not take his keen eyes off of me. After what seems forever I blink and the red tail takes to the air, glides between the hardwood branches, and disappears from my vision in the clutter of trees in the distance.