I see myself as a flower; I feel fresh
I see myself as a mountain; I feel solid
I see myself as still water; I reflect things as they are
I see myself as space; I feel free
A Vietnamese Meditation by Thich Nhat Hanh
Fallen leaves grace the forest floor. Some still hold their cheerful colors. The red, yellow, and orange colors on the ground of the forest create a brilliant mosaic. Now the fallen leaves represent memories of last summer’s growing season when they provided sustenance to the trees on which they grew. The dead leaves will still provide sustenance. They will decay with time and add carbon, nitrogen, and other important elements to the soil in the forest; in part, next year’s nutrients for a forest full of trees.
Near the edge of a seasonal stream I spot the yellow flower of a witch-hazel; to the best of my knowledge it is our only late autumn and early winter flowering shrub. The pale yellow flowers stand in stark contrast to the frosty branchlet that holds the flower erect. I bend the twig and hold the small yellow flower to my nose. I breath in hoping to catch a faint scent of nectar. When I exhale I feel rejuvenated.
A smile comes to my face. I expected to feel a little melancholy today. I often do in the autumn. The shear threat of the impending winter makes me long for non-dormant plants. I am happy to find this treasure. I feel alive and happy to be reminded of this late season miracle. This little discovery puts a slight spring in my step that was not there an hour ago when I entered the woods.
I came to the woods today in search of some spiritual guidance. Recently I have gotten a crooked view of the world jaded by warnings of climate change and human greed. I am hoping to renew my spirit by simple contact with the natural world. Those who know me best would not describe me as a religious person. In my mind religion is the politics of spirituality. I think those who know me would describe me as a spiritual person. I pray randomly throughout each day asking for guidance from the cosmos, god, earth, and those places unknown. In my mind each of these entities are one. They are beyond any description I can provide given my present state of knowledge. It is something I sense and do not try to intellectualize.
The woods are tangled which makes travelling difficult. Scores of tree tops and broken tree shanks cover the forest floor from last year’s immense ice storm. The twisted maze of branches and wood obscure long distance views through the forest. It is a reminder that the natural world can make things complicated. I am reminded that life is a challenge and any triumphs we experience are usually the result of overcoming obstacles. I love these simple observations. They comfort me.
I know that there is a hemlock grove on a hillside not too far away where there is very little damage from last year’s ice storm. I head in that direction hoping to find a tranquil place to clear my mind.
The nearby steep hill is steep. A thin edge of hardwoods can be found along the bottom. Most of the hill is covered with eastern hemlock. Here the woods are dark. Shadows dominate the floor of the forest with only occasional beams of light penetrating the evergreen boughs above. I find a place where I can rest in the dark forest with a beam of light on my face. Somehow the stream of sunlight warms my spirit.
I look about. This hillside was once a huge mountain in the distant past. Geologists tell us that these hills would have once rivaled the Himalaya Mountains. Over millions of years they have worn down from nearly 30,000 feet above sea level to a mere 1,800. Still they have survived millions of years of erosion by glaciers, water, wind and forces unknown and uncharted by humankind. I breath in deeply to absorb their stolid energy. When I exhale I feel spiritually strong.
Not too far away there is a small pool of water perched on the schist bedrock. This 600 square foot pond never seems to dry up. In the autumn it is a beautiful place to witness. I decide that a small journey to the southwest part of these woods will be well worth the experience.
On this part of my spiritual journey I traverse a long ridge predominated by hardwoods. There is a steep bedrock face to the west that rises perhaps 70 feet in height. To the east there are a series of nearly vertical cliffs that yield a long distance view between the tree trunks in the foreground. Although the tree damage here is the most severe that I have witnessed on this day my journey is made easy by a path cut through the woods along and old snowmobile path. It is apparent the crews have recently reclaimed this area for winter recreation. I must admit that I am glad to have the easy passage. The pool is well off of the path so I must find my way through a short distance of the mangled forest. I am happy to see that the pool is not completely covered in tree tops; in fact it is surprisingly open. These still waters reflect the image of the trees around the edge of the small water body. The image of the few colorful leaves that remain on the surrounding trees can be seen dancing in the water as a slight breeze ripples the surface.
It is curious how one can witness something over and over again and still be bewildered by it. This small woodland pool seems like a perfect slice of the universe. A place where one can actually witness a parallel world. I can see the forest and I can see it’s reflection in the water. All of its beauty and imperfections can be seen both in reality and in an image.
I see my own reflection in the water. I am dwarfed by the reflection of the blue sky above, the mirrored shanks of trees with their large overhanging branches, and by the surrounding universe, most of which cannot be seen but can surely be felt.
I breathe in to take in this reflection and as I exhale I understand that the universe has its own version of the truth. This is a version much different and more accurate than the truth invented by humans.
Not too far away I can see the horizon looking east. A wonderful view is made possible by the huge valley eroded away by millions of years of natural events. I walk to the edge of a cliff and look to the east. The sky is blue, the valley still full of color, and still I think about looking beyond our atmosphere into the universe beyond.
Although we know our universe in not infinite it sure seems like it is never ending from my perspective. Out there in the unknown miles are measured in light years and time seems to have no linear measurement. I breathe in to absorb this thought of a universe of indescribable proportions. When I breathe out I am left with a sense of unparalleled freedom.
And for the moment my spirit has been restored. I understand there is much beyond my control.
Written for www.wildramblings.com in October of 2009.