This was the simple greeting exchanged when my dog and I passed Leo and his owner heading onto the forest path for the foggy marsh walk today. We don’t think too much about these verbal hopes we pass to one another as we stand in the coffee lines or at the grocery check-out or even here at the border of woods and meadow. But more than a hope, a “nice walk” is exactly what was had today, and more. It was a stunning walk filled with silence and solitude, reflection and remembrance.
It’s a mystery why the dog picks one path over another most days. Today’s choice was to head through the tall trees, over the soaked undergrowth, around the sharp bends marked by downed trees, through the ferns, over the two bridges and up the “steep” path. Not a soul came our way until the very end and yet, it was companionable, the stillness. I could look up from the wet footing and find my thoughts on the needs of friends near and far, the world’s troubles and the bare Earth’s joys. I didn’t feel alone.
On close inspection, wet raindrops hung from the thorn branches, not dropping. Any animals who might have been around were tucked up out of the wet out of sight. Crossing the second footbridge one could pause and hear the brook chasing itself down the mild slope. How can there be so much wrong with the world, when in here, so much is right?
There’s a moment captured in “Thicker than Liquor,” the first essay in Wendell Berry’s book The Wild Birds, that is like this. Wheeler Catlett is with his father, looking with him at their farm and the work they just completed in the midst of a desperate drought. He writes, “It was a moment that would live with Wheeler for the rest of his life, for he saw his father then as he had at last grown old enough to see him, not only as he declared himself, but as he was.” Here in the old New England woods we can see this Earth not only as she declares herself to be, but as she is. Humans may make a mash of her, use her up, and spit her out, but she waits. Hurt, perhaps, but refusing, on the good days, to be defined by the abuses we perpetrate. Waiting, instead, for possible temporal recovery but also for certain eventual redemption.
May we be lucky enough, observant enough, caring enough, to think about these things and see them, not only when we walk, but as we work, and sleep, and God willing, rise to a new day.
1 Berry, Wendell. The Wild Birds. San Francisco: North Point Press, 1980, p.11.