September 2020 has been intense. After a challenging year, this last month found many of us on the west coast isolated inside or even to a single room to avoid hazardous air for a week. Like many, I found my resilience reservoir tapped out. Multiple rounds of focused breathing did not loosen the tightness in my core. Overwhelmed by unrelenting politics and news, systemic racism and oppression, Covid-19 fatigue, and loss of life and property due to fires; I had nothing more to give. I needed to get grounded with nature; let my body touch the wild. I set off with a small pack and some protective covering for the rain.
Watching the river muddy from showers and glacial melt tumble over rocks, I sat on a cold boulder. The brown water danced over the rapids and reminded me of the danger of the raging river. I was also aware of the breath still constricted weeks after the smoke cleared. The knot between my ribs holding tight, the part of me stuck in the anxious and fearful past.
Respecting the boundaries of the swollen river, I moved to higher ground. Atop a sandy knoll was a bent tree covered in moss, the perfect place to rest a weary body and soul. I lay on my back looking up. The sun poked through the tree canopy as the rain fell. Water collected and then dropped into my mouth off my rain protective cover. I laughed out loud when the first drop surprised my tongue. The delight of cool water was an unexpected gift from the heavens.
The sun shone as the rain fell and brought to mind another memory of sunlit rain many years ago. After a few hours of uphill climbing up Handies Peak, my body was tired from the effort and short of breath from the altitude. Suddenly sunlight blinded my eyes and rain soaked my body; the beauty of being on top of a mountain and beholding the bright sun and clean rain is emblazoned in my memory.
Here I was many years later, mesmerized by the sun and the rain again. I had come though another arduous time and knew nature would sooth my utter weariness. I went to the wild, knowing that somehow, my reservoir would be filled.
I breathed. I laid. I waited. I would stay all day. Cool water drops fell one by one into my mouth refreshing and grounding me. A bird with a white tail landed on a branch several trees away. It jumped from branch to branch until it looked down on me. Eventually it flew away.
The softness of the moss and perfect curve of the tree cradled my head and back. I was so grateful for the comfort of the earth and being held.
Bit by bit the knot went away. The bound up feeling in under my ribs somehow slowly let go. Eventually I was ready to move on. It was a gift. Feeling refreshed inside and out, I thanked the tree and the bird and the forest and walked out, my reservoir filled again.
The poet Wendell Berry spoke of a similar experience
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.