Dream

Free stock photo; sketch filter applied

In my dream, I was walking the familiar wooded paths nearby on a crisp, bright, winter’s day. Yet, something was different.

Being the only one patiently walking these leave-covered trails winding through hardwood trees was nothing new. Not hearing any road noise from nearby highways, however, was new.

Soon I stopped to let my mind wander. I gazed out through the tall standing, hibernating trees, silently awaiting nature’s spring command to “leaf forward.” As I stood there in my thoughts, a large, black crow flew down and landed on a limb near me.

  1. Crow: “Caw. Caw. What are you doing out here, human?”
  2. Me: “I’m walking as I usually do on a beautiful winter morning. What are you doing out here? Hunting for food?”

The sleek, jet black feathered crow hesitated and picked at something in his feathery coat with his big, jet black beak.

  1. Crow: “I flew down to see if my eyes were true: it IS a human walking.”
  2. Me: “Why is that a surprise, crow?”
  3. Crow: “Because there’s none of you left on Earth. Now it’s just nature and natural things, as intended.”

As those words sank in, I was not fearful, but surprised. It explained the absence of the usual noises, plus why I saw no one as I walked through my housing complex on the way to the woods.

  1. Me: “I’m the only one left? How can this be? And how would you even know that?”
  2. Crow: “Caw! Caw! Caw! Because you humans finally did yourselves in for good. The pandemic, so poorly prepared for made even worse by letting people out of homes too soon. Then more got sick and died. Then you stayed inside, then you let more roam too soon. Death, stupidity, death, stupidity. It’s a cycle we nature citizens have watched from you humans for so many millennia. Caw!”

I pondered on the Crow’s wisdom and insight, not wanting to believe it was true. But I could not deny or defend humanity’s poor behavior throughout the centuries and our creative ways to self-destruct and ruin the Earth.

  1. Me: “You may well be right, Crow, but I still have hope. Maybe I’m not the only one left. Maybe others are out there and we can start again, this time knowing how to do things better?”
  2. Crow: “We’ve been watching and knowing it was only a matter of time. If not something like this virus, it would be humans killing humans in senseless, total annihilation war. We wondered which would come first, or if you’d finally destroy nature enough to make the Earth unsurvivable for your kind.
  3. We nature beings are not sad it happened this way. This time, while you tried to protect humans by staying in for long periods, the Earth healed quickly. We thank you for that and leaving us with a clean world to thrive in.”

We both remained silent and unmoving. Soon, with a final, loud “caw” the crow extended wings and slowly ascended into the sky.

Then I woke up.

Pandemic Perambulations

The trek to Trader Joe’s last week felt like going to Disneyland, but instead of Mickey Mouse and Goofy greeting me, gloved workers festooned with decorative face masks happily welcomed me in. Good to get out, drive, take in fresh scenery, and walk through the wonderland of newly stocked shelves loaded with that most privileged and appreciated commodity in these dark times: food.

Compared to daily walks around the complex or in the nearby woods, driving somewhere feels like I’m channeling Steve McQueen as he rides his motorcycle in his escape from the WWII prison camp. He eludes pursuers over hill and dale, but eventually gets caught trying to jump that final fence to freedom. Alas, like McQueen, I also have to return and continue the days ahead in semi-solitary confinement.

These periodic food runs and frequent walks outside the home remind me of things I miss doing and likely took for granted back then. The ability to go out on a whim, explore a museum, or think nothing of driving over an hour to Ohio for that pan of amazing coffee cake were delights I did not fully appreciate then. How could I, when they were anytime, anywhere options? Now it feels like a naughty pleasure to get out, triggering some religion-induced guilt for enjoying it so.

Once outside, I think I must be in a Twilight Zone episode, that one where everything looked normal and in place, except there were no people, anywhere. On some days, walks in the woods feel like I’m the last human on Earth. Except for the distant sound of highway traffic, it’s not a stretch to have those thoughts. But wait…up ahead, someone masked and gloved approaches. So I’m not the last. Soon those thoughts give way to the new, autonomic social distancing dance, once clumsy, but now just is.

My growing list of basic things now grateful for, perhaps not as much as before, finds walking at the top. Rewind back to 2004, my year of back surgery to correct a problem that evolved into being unable to walk without severe pain. After post-surgery recovery, there were still moments when I mentally wrestled with accepting I wouldn’t walk well again, but eventually those thoughts dissipated.

Since then, I’ve always been grateful for my recovered ability to walk freely, possibly that most precious of human abilities that opens doors to so many experiences and enables self-reliance. My love of hiking and walking, it seems, would not be denied and ever since, have been grateful for every step I could take.

“The geographical pilgrimage is the symbolic acting out of an inner journey. The inner journey is the interpolation of the meanings and signs of the outer pilgrimage. One can have one without the other. It is best to have both.” – Thomas Merton

The power to move from here to there, without mechanical conveyance, is a marvel and a lifelong art form. The fluidity of muscles moving in harmony with joints, driven by the lung’s unselfish in- and out-breaths in rhythm with the heart’s life-pump, are as mysterious and amazing as any modern technology.

As I walk and earn that magical moment, what those who jog call “runner’s high,” all cares slip away and only the moment is in focus. The sensory delights of surroundings combine with the meditative and therapeutic value of a good walk completes the experience. Having the capability and opportunity to walk freely during these dark times is my daily taste of freedom…for now.

“An Eskimo custom offers an angry person release by walking the emotion out of his or her system in a straight line across the landscape, the point at which anger is conquered is marked with a stick, bearing witness to the strength or length of the rage.” – Lucy Lippard, “Overlay”

“I stride along with calm, with eyes, with shoes,
with fury, with forgetfulness.”
– Pablo Neruda

Early Mornings in (My) Church

I believe in God, only I spell it nature. – Frank Lloyd Wright

I’ve often felt far more spiritual and connected to that essence each of us attributes to a higher power, or universal spirituality, while being in nature.

I find it nearly impossible not to relax or quiet the mind and break from the noise of the day if I’m immersed in nature. Whether it’s walking a woodland path, wandering along a seashore searching for sand dollars, or trekking up a mountainside and arrive at the top with that breathtaking view, those are my spiritual cathedrals.

This morning’s walk in the woods at dawn provided two delights for the eyes and my spirit: a jet’s orange streak contrail against the sky bursting from the rising sun, and a mist over the pond where geese go about their early morning rituals. Combine the early quietness with walking alone on leave-covered paths, and it’s little wonder this time of day is good for thinking and gratitude.

My most striking connection to the Earth and the spiritual within and without, undoubtedly came from exploring the multi-colored mesas and lands near Abiquiu, New Mexico (see travel post here Mystical New Mexico and here More Mystical New Mexico). I’ve long ago abandoned trying to understand the why of this. Instead, I let myself be quiet as I walk there and connect to and the spirits and generations of those who trod these paths long before me.

In our digital-everything world, it’s too easy to succumb to those digital paths for everything from entertainment to solace. Yet we have, and always have had, an easier, more soul-satisfying way via the woods and deserts of the land. Although with civilizations sprawl, it’s sometimes challenging to get there, even the smallest backyard, a green spot of nature is worthy of an imaginary steeple above it and a place beneath to ponder and reflect.

The Leaf Man Cometh

So much for plans to sleep in on Saturday. Late last night I realized that TODAY was the volunteer leaf pick up in my town. Most years the city provides leaf vacuuming, curbside, but the last two years, no-go. Budgets and all that. This year a mayoral candidate organized a volunteer effort to pick up the leaves and take ’em to the county mulch pile. Cool.

I’m not a leaf raker & bagger normally. I believe in mulching the leaves to feed the grass, rather than consigning bags of leaves to the dump. But I haven’t kept up with raking this year, so this was an opportunity to support the cause, ensure the leaves go to mulch and not landfill, and catch me up. There are still leaves around to mulch, so fall’s duties are not quite over.

Pickup starts at 8 a.m. so at 6 a.m., wishing I was still snug in my warm bed, I’m out there in the dark, raking and bagging. A street light made it reasonably possible for the first hour or so, but I still felt a bit sneaky doing it in the dark! Results? My shoulders ache, I’m still amazed my little yard could generate twelve bags of leaves, but at least the task is complete. Now I can shower and leaf (groan) to go the coffee shop for the day to work on the Nano novel.