“Adversity is life’s way of testing and perfecting a person. Without that, we would never develop character. Rice suffers when it is milled. Jade must suffer when it is polished. But what emerges is something special. ” ~From 365 Tao Daily Meditations by Deng Ming-Dao
The crocus are all in full bloom as I dash from the house, forgetting my camera. The sky a crystal clear blue, I stop, I wait here just out of the shadows of the forest. I lift my face to the sun shining and warm between the long straight poles of two spruce trees. I am quiet, basking. I turn and look at him and watch as he fiddles with his sound equipment, we both listen to the children and dogs on the other side of the pond. There are no parking spaces left here along this old dirt and gravel road, slushy with melting snow. My skin is like a sponge soaking in every ray of light, warm here, but cool only a step in one direction or another. We make our way through the brush to a path that is less than clear, skirting a fallen tree, slipping and sliding on the packed path when we get to where people have crushed the snow. I walk ahead, the dog running back and forth between us. He has taken to not listening to me, but when the dog is bothering people that are on the trail, I tell him to call the dog who runs to him right away. I think now as I write at my dining room table that my dominance has lessened in his big brown dog eyes. We come to a spot and I stop and wait for him to catch up, I gesture forward, this is the path I say pointing to the slash of blue paint on the trees, but this here is a clear road though disused. He agrees with me and we decide with no back and forth of discussion, that the road is the way, though it has drainage issues, and is thick and spongey with moss and fern and spruce needles. My feet get wet quickly, I am determined that I have to find my favorite hiking boots in a waterproof style. I can walk for miles in them, and never feel it in my feet, I hate to have to replace such a good and sturdy pair. We hear a woodpecker and he turns his parabolic microphone to it, I bang on a tree with a rock, hoping to draw the woodpecker near. I think about doing t’ai chi chih, but instead stop and listen as the breeze sings in the boughs of the evergreens above me. I turn my face to it, and bask in the lovely sound of it. It is like a voice I say, like a song, it harkens back to my childhood, I think it harkens back to a time of deep mysticism. I feel so grateful. We walk side by side, saying nothing, he walks ahead making trail, I walk too close and get a good smack in the face by a snapping branch, he apologizes and I say, I know better I shouldn’t be walking that close. Sometimes he takes the lower wetter trail, I seek higher ground. Damn boots. But there is something about it that I like. That I am just as comfortable making my way as he is his own, and yet we are traveling together. It is as though our paths are parallel and twisting back and forth upon themselves again and again. We come together and I kiss his warm mouth. We do not hold hands. We look at cattail fluff, he tells me it is tinder, I tell him, dig down to the root and eat in the spring, but later I review the plant in my Edible Wild Plants book, and cattail is pretty much a versatile and completely edible plant all year long from its roots to its stems to its head to its pollen and back down again in winter to its roots again. I think about Annie Dillard when she wrote A Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, and Anne LaBastille and how the two after the end of their marriages, found a peace, a place of words and silence in the woods. I cannot say I am a writer like either of them but I find solace and serenity in both the woods and with writing. Pico Iyer writes in his essay “A Chapel Is Where You Can Hear Something Beating Below Your Heart” that “So much of our time is spent running from ourselves, or hiding from the world; a chapel brings us back to the source, in ourselves and in the larger sense of self—as if there were a difference.” I write in the margins, “writing is a running back to myself” and myself is this day, this wooded chapel, where I walk in communion with my best friend, with my dog, with God.
We stop close to the car and we listen to the robins and chickadees as they sing in the tree tops. I call to them, trying to sound like one. They change their song again and again, until I, in my human voice, am stuck wondering what they might be saying now. ‘Oh humans’, the chickadee scientists must say to one another, ‘a few of the smarter ones can mimic’ (and not very well). One curious male flies to the top of the bare branches of tree, and flies about ten feet over me getting a good clear view of the two strange humans, and the dog. I call to him again before I go to the car and I start to wipe all the mud off the dog’s feet, tail and belly. I told him this the morning as he lay on his side of the bed and I like a mummy upside down, arms crossed in front of my chest, face turned away, that I would have never dated him in my 20’s. Why not, he asks. Because you don’t recite poetry or write your own, because you don’t tell me you love me all the time, because you hunt and you fish. I know now, I just had it wrong back then, and as I turn to look into those golden eyes, and he wrinkles his face at me, I feel like I am in the woods, walking alone. Yet there he is, making his own way, on a path alongside my own. I am at home in my soul when I am beside him. I am at home in a way I never was when I was married, it still strikes me at times like a slap, full of red faced shame, at other times like a bellyache, a churning in my stomach, and like a bad dream where I wake up and say, thank God that dream wasn’t real, only it was and I still wake from confronting him wanting to slap the shame into him, will this heartache never leave me full? And it makes me worry sometimes that in 10 years or maybe in 20 he will annoy me to the point where I no longer like him or worse that he will no longer like me – just as I have already played it out, badly. And should he leave me, broken, or I him, wanting, I worry I will be too old and stodgey to make my way to the woods, I say aloud, I hope I am never too old to do this, that I will always want to find myself in a place like this on a beautiful day. But when I think no matter what, I will never lose this chapel I have in my heart, I will always be strong. I sing the song of the wind in the high tops of the spruce, like the song of the water melting in long rivulets along a long abandoned road. I sing the song of my soul. And then I realize, I am not singing alone and that gives me comfort.