Lately I’ve been hiking the short and steep trail up to the ridge behind my home. The forest smells of sweet oak and rich earth, and I breathe it in deeply. It is one of my favorite smells. The mountain laurel is blooming and there are ferns everywhere. There are tiny mushrooms and mosses in silver and bright green. I walk among the abundant herbs and botanical beauties and know many by name: blue cohosh, mountain mint, wild ginger, rattlesnake plantain. Sometimes I smell traces of a musky animal–a bear? a skunk? a fox? My dog companion knows who walked this trail last night and left their lingering scent. It makes him a little excited, but he is keeping his secret.
I walk to the ridge because I want to be in the forest, but also because I want to be strong. I understand that there are different kinds of strength. Physical strength, spiritual strength, emotional strength. All of these imply that real strength is the ability to push past limitations, whether they are perceived or internal.
I bought a pair of trekking poles. I am always slipping down and clambering up the steepest parts, and the poles help with this. They even my stride and bring my whole body to the task of ascent. When I reach the landing at the top of the steepest climb where the ash tree grows straight up I always stop and catch my breath.
I feel as if my spirit is anemic. What do I mean by this? I’m not really sure. It’s summer, the forest is thick and green. On hot afternoons we go to the river and swim. The river is a mystical being. Swimming with her is a spiritual experience. Still, I feel disconnected from something. Something as rich as milk and as scarlet as blood: Presence.
My breath comes in deep gulps. The trail is very steep. The ash tree before me has been wounded. The edges have healed over and a cavity has formed. A dark emptiness. I take the tip of my pole and probe the cavity. It has been cleaned out, a perfect hollow. Something is probably sleeping there now. I do not want to disturb it.
For a moment, a breath, a quick turn, the forest becomes a mythic landscape. The web of imagination, the collective Sacred, quickens in the energy field of my body. The creature sleeping in the hollow of the ash opens one eye.
The world is alive with Presence. If we walk in the dry world of definitions provided to us by those blind to this Reality, our spirits do become anemic. Living by the human calendar we forget that there is timelessness. A beyond. It is a Mystery, but it is available to us.
I walk to the ridge because I want to be in the forest, but also because I want to be awake. I understand there are different ways to be awake. I want to push past the edges of my awareness, the limitations of my mind, to experience the world beyond. The world of primordial light. It sleeps in the darkest hollows of our imaginings. And when it opens one eye, for an infinite split-second, we can see.