A Walk in the Woods
It's been so long since I felt comfortable going out into the wild, I'm not sure I know how to do it anymore. But the natural world hasn't changed. It's always been a take-your-life-in-your-hands kind of place. The change has been in me. I'm older now. Nature can hurt me.
That's why I sought the help of survivalist teacher and personal coach Michael Trotta. Ten years ago he wrote a book to help people like me. "Sit Spot and the Art of Inner Tracking" is a guide to reentering the natural world for people who have wandered away. It's a thirty-day challenge to pick a spot and sit there every day for fifteen to thirty minutes and just ... observe. What's happening in the natural world? What's happening within me? And what's happening in the interaction and interconnection between us?
I took the challenge. I chose our back deck, which surveys a bit of wildness in our backyard. It's not true wildness, with the yard's tiered levels, its pergola, and its stone stairs leading up to a fire pit. But it's wild enough to have attracted a deer herd, jack rabbits, coyotes, and even a bobcat who camped out in one of our trees.
At first, in my typically overblown idealistic way, I was excited about the possibilities, about the encounters I might have. I imagined sitting quietly as the coyotes made their way into the yard. We would make eye contact. I would talk to them and they wouldn't run away. We'd acknowledge one another, respectfully, knowing that we were equally a part of the natural order, they in their way, me in mine. Because of that astonishing experience I would shift my personal identification from the leonine family to the canine, from lion to wolf or, if no wolves actually came along, then, okay, to coyote.
But the coyotes didn't show up. They had better things to do than stoke my vanity. They may even have bristled at the thought of my waiting there for them. They're contrary that way, uncooperative with the strictures imposed by humankind. So, after a few days, I readjusted my vision away from the sharp focus on that spot in the hedge where they were most likely to appear to a soft focus, what Michael calls "owl eyes." I became aware, instead, of all the avian activity going on in the brush beyond the bird feeders. Cool, but still not the sort of engagement I was looking for.
I sat there faithfully each day. Slowly, my mind stopped trying to manage or manufacture the experience and just let it be. And that's when I found myself drawn to a tree in my neighbours' yard. We've lived in our house for eleven years now and I can honestly say I've never looked at that tree. It's a pine tree and it reaches out horizontally from the underbrush to where it can finally turn up into the sunlight. To lean out that far, some seven or eight feet, requires a deep root system, not to mention an enormous will to live.
I kept coming back to that tree. Something about it felt familiar. I too am a leaner. All my life I've reached out from wherever I was rooted in order to secure the love and attention I've craved. And I've risen up in that love, just like the pine, and grown tall with the affirmations I've received. I might have wished I was a stately oak or a colourful maple. But no, this was the tree that was speaking to me, revealing in the same instant something about itself and something about me.
This was nothing new to Michael. He said I should get to know it, like finding out what kind of tree it is. He suggested I take a small snipping, asking first for the tree's permission. How many needles in a pod? He said I could make tea from those needles. They're rich in vitamin C. And meanwhile, notice what inner revelations were offering themselves in my new "relationship" with that tree.
Michael has been guiding me back to the natural world--to curiosity, to wonder, and to gratitude. How could I have stayed away this long, with my adjustable thermostat and my automatic lights and my electronic gizmos? How have I allowed myself to get so far removed from the natural world that is, literally, right outside my door? I don't know, but I'm on my way back, and it feels good; it feels very good. Natural, even.
This week's episode of The Mystic Cave is "Getting Lost: Michael Trotta and the Art of Being in Nature." To hear it, just press the Play button, below ...