Last Sunday I experienced something I had never felt before. I have been for more walks in my local reserve area than I can count, since living in Australia, but no walk has ever been quite like this. I rose early, and felt compelled to remain fasting, and head out for some time among the trees. Sometimes a sense of ritual is particularly helpful.
As I entered the reserve, the morning sunlight was slanting through the trees – a rich, warm gold. One has to see and appreciate Australian bush to fully grasp the loveliness of the red earth and the particular shades of green of the eucalypts. The colours are intense, and more so on a day like this, with a very blue sky overhead.
Not very far in, I became aware of a sensation that was completely new to me. I felt a warm glow starting at my feet and rising up to knee level. It was strange – like the comfort of a soft blanket. There was absolutely no logical, concrete explanation for this experience, and it seemed the place was recognising and welcoming me: the ground that knew my feet, the trees and shrubs that knew my skin cells, my hair, my breath, my microbiota – the parts of me that I exchange with the environment every time I visit.
Further along my way, as I moved slowly and wonderingly, I felt as if I was joined by other unseen beings. It had all the sense of a welcome for an important ceremony, by community where one feels utter and complete belonging and love. I don’t know who or what those presences might have been, and it didn’t really matter. I felt them there and I belonged with them, and they with me, and they brought with them an incredibly deep sense of acceptance, celebration and joy. Just before I crossed the stream, they seemed to stay behind, sending me forward on my own.
I paused at the stream. While the water was very low, it was the clearest I’d seen it in a very long time. There was a Water Dragon up on the rocks – my Australian totem creature – an affirming sign, and at the edge of the stream I found two four-leafed clovers. Four-leafed clovers have featured strongly in my life since childhood, as a sign of abundance beyond the expected. A tiny Thornbill nearby paid no mind to my presence at all, as it hopped around the branches of a shrub and paused to preen.
As I continued up the path on the other side of the stream, I became very aware of the rocks. They reminded me of the rocks at the headland at Mona Vale Beach, where the crumbling cliff has strewn an astonishing variety of different boulders on the shore below. Many contain fossils and I have always felt frustrated that I was not a geologist who could read the stories they had to tell. Now, these rocks in my local forest seemed to be inviting me to read their stories in a different way – not the scientific way, but rather in terms of their long, slow transformation and witnessing of life. They seemed to be inviting me to shift my way of seeing.
I came to a particularly large tree – an old ironbark, fire-blasted and strong. I felt this was the right place to head off the path to find a space where I would be truly alone, away from any other folk enjoying a morning walk or run. It meant a new level of awareness of my surroundings, with the very real possibility of encountering a poisonous snake. Without a path, the layers of sticks, twigs and leaf litter build up over the rocks, hiding treacherous gaps and animal hidey-holes. There were times I wondered at the sense of making this off-path effort, but I realised that nothing worthwhile comes easily. How can I ever be “of the wild” if I am not prepared to negotiate the wild and test my ability to put my feet in the right places? I found a spot where a live tree and a dead tree leant together to make a gateway – a liminal space, a place of one thing meeting another.
I spent my time there in reflection, meditation and movement, just being. The process of leaving the beaten track seemed to symbolize leaving the normal tracks of thinking and pushing into new and unknown territory. I considered nature’s values – something that had been on my mind after reading someone’s suggestion that nature had no values and didn’t care about us. Just looking around me I ticked off the values I could see: Life and death cycle of conservation- no wastage, complexity and diversity, symbiosis, inter-connectivity, mutuality, balance, sustainability, experimentation, systems behaviour, balance, cohesion, nurture…
With these thoughts I felt I had moved out of the highly intuitive space where I could read symbols on rocks, and into a more cognitive space, but bringing the reverence and perspective with me that allowed me to be both intuitive and cognitive, rather than either/or. It was a wonderful sense of bringing integration to parts of my thinking that have often seemed poles apart and irreconcilable.
I had meant to spend only the morning there, but by the time I left it was late afternoon. I had lost all sense of time. I left slowly, contemplating this amazing experience and feeling I had in
deed crossed a line. I no longer felt like an imposter, stepping off the path into forest that had not felt human feet for a very long time. Rather, I felt welcomed and I belonged there, because I am part of nature, sprung from Earth, made of her, breathing
with her, constantly exchanging myself with the rest of her and here as her guardian.