I have not gone on a walkabout for some time. I needed to do it--alone. Writer Rick Bass introduced me to the idea to walk with someone in mind and share what you experienced with them. A communion. A gift. This one is for my mom.
Autumn. The forest near the nature center was quiet. In the 60s, Effie Yeaw Nature Center was the first of 5,000 acres along the American River to be protected. Standing sentry at the trailhead was a two hundred year old Valley Oak. And not far away, one that had fallen in a strong winter storm some handful of years ago. The things it must have stood witness to!
It stood when the Nisenan people inhabited this area. They built their summer homes along the abundant river, once its waters had receded. Walking through here, you can imagine what it must have been like before the settlers came. The forest is no longer still. It allows me to see it. A mamma deer and her baby walk toward me as they cross my path. Penetrating further, I feel their presence; deer are everywhere. And birds: woodpeckers, black phoebes, jays, titmouse. As I stop to listen to their twitters, something bites my leg. Something small. I think it was a spider, but it walked like a crab.
Although the song of the birds was pretty, I was drawn away, toward the river. I saw a massive great egret flying overhead. I was hoping it would land close, but it flew upriver. The river was murmuring and singing its deep earthy song, and insects danced around it: bees, mating damselflies, dragonflies--and Buckeye butterflies. I wanted to take a picture, but they wouldn't let me. I wandered to a sit spot, a log by the water. The sound is so constant and soothing. It's like a soul massage. But those butterflies! I chased them all over the riverside. I guess they wouldn't be possessed.
Time began to gently pull me back, but I decided to meander. I wanted to make my own way, to let the world open up for me. To listen. To hear its message. I saw many plants, known and unknown. I found a mugwort going to seed, and asked if I could take a small bit. In an essay in Ecological Medicine, Kathleen Harrison says, "When, for instance, you meet a plant and you wish to take some of its body for medicine, you ask it if you might, and you explain what it’s for, and you give it something back. On this continent it often has been tobacco, traditionally the most sacred plant of the Americas, that is offered in exchange. I’ve thought about what is most valuable to people of our contemporary culture, and I think it’s time. Time is the thing that is most expensive to us, what we have the least of, and what we’re most jealous with. Time is the precious gift that we can offer to a plant if we want to get to know it, when we want to ask something from it. The way we can offer it time is to get to know the plant, sit with it, learn what it looks like, and maybe grow it. Even if you’re just purchasing the dried root, try to learn about that plant’s world."
I found a couple of other sit spots and tried to meditate. But it was so LOUD. The smallest creatures can be so deafening! Like the butterflies and bees, my thoughts just kept flitting. I curled up in a ball. And then I heard the message. I was waiting for something instead of living into the moment. I hadn't brought my watch, but again, time was tugging me. It said, "Get up." Within minutes, I had come full circle. The veil dropped again, and the forest quieted. I made my way back to the present, into the city and was just in time to pick up my daughter and go home. Time, huh?