sometimes we walk in circles before we find our way. or at least i do. maybe the last few months have been circle-walking. maybe the way forward is threaded by wonder. maybe what i’ve been looking for, a way into that deep-down still place inside, the place that’s a wellspring of the divine, maybe we get there by opening our eyes, putting our pulse up against the heartbeat of creation. maybe the quieter we go, the stiller we become, the more certain the sacred pulses inside and through and around and beyond.
maybe the place to begin — and this is the season for new beginnings — is right here where we are. maybe the way to begin is to be as still as we can possibly be, and plunge ourselves into those places where wonder can’t help but rub up against us.
this is hardly new revelation. i’ve been deep in the writings of thoreau these past couple weeks, poring over, underlining, making stars in the margins of a collection of passages and essays keenly observing the trees in and around walden pond and the woods of concord, mass. it’s a glorious collection of words and black-and-white photographs, gathered by the photographer and writer richard higgins from the two-million-word journal of the great transcendentalist and poet laureate of nature, henry david thoreau (1817-1862). it’s titled “thoreau and the language of trees,” and in it the instruction begins (for this is as much a guide to living as it is a historical recounting) with these guidepost paragraphs:
“old trees connected thoreau to a realm of time not counted on the town clock, an endless moment of fable and possibility….
“and they were his teachers. although he called the shedding of leaves each fall a tragedy, he knew that the leaves that fell to the ground would enrich the soil and, in time, ‘stoop to rise’ in new trees. by falling so airily, so contentedly, he said, they teach us how to die.
“thoreau wrote prolifically about trees for a quarter century, from 1836 to 1861. he observed them closely, knew them well, and described them in detail, but he did not presume to fully explain them. he respected a mysterious quality about trees, a way in which they point beyond themselves. for thoreau, trees bore witness to the holy and emerged in his writings as special emblems and images of the divine.”
more and more of late, i am being drawn to a deeper understanding of the Book of Nature, a belief both catholic and jewish, a belief of many many faiths, that God first wrote the Book of Nature in creation, and then, in words, gave us the Torah, the Bible.
the pages of the Book of Nature are before us always — if we open the valves, the channels — the eyes, the ears, the soul — that detect and absorb the holy all around. the wisdom, the lessons, it’s all there to be extracted. it’s the wonder that catches our attention, that draws us in, holds us in its grasp. and then comes the pondering, the meditation, the sifting and filtering, the sieving and panning for glimmering gold.
but to notice, to pay attention, we need to go quiet. to still the noise. quell the cacophony. go to the woods or the edge of the shore. go to where the waters rush or trickle or flow in and flow out. stand under the stars of a cold winter’s night. we’re wrapped in the holiest text, the calligraphy of the great Book of Nature. God’s book. the book that beckons. the ancient and timeless antidote to the madness of civilization.
“the winter woods, especially, were a spirit land to thoreau, a place for contemplation. he walked in them alert to the mystical, more as supplicant than naturalist….
“thoreau also detected the divine in the woods. ‘nature is full of genius, full of divinity.’ all its motions — ‘the flowing sail, the running stream, the waving tree, the roving wind’ — must be the ‘circulations of God.’ ‘if by watching all day and all night i detect some trace of the Ineffable, then will it not be worth the while to watch,’ he asked, alluding to the recurring motif in the psalms of the watchman who calls out in the morning. ‘to watch for, describe, all the divine features which i detect in Nature. my profession is to be always on the alert to find God in nature.”‘
and so, at the cusp of this blessed new year, this moment when beyond the woods the cacophony rises, i am following the trail in and through, in search of the wonder that makes clear what might otherwise escape me.
where do you find wonder?
happy blessed newborn year to each and every one, as we all pack away the holidays, the glitter and shiny paper, and shuffle back to the extraordinary quotidian….i’m finding myself a wee bit heavy-hearted this morning as my firstborn, home for the first time in a year these past two weeks, flies off tomorrow, into what promises to be another steep climb up the next mountainside….thank goodness the so-called little one will stick around till he too shoves off when college calls early next autumn…..
p.s. ice crystals above, clinging to the roots of a fallen tree, discovered yesterday along lake michigan’s shore when my beloved and i went out for a late afternoon’s winter walk, but one of the wonders marking my annual return to the day i was birthed….
Thanks for my coffee moment this morning. Glad you are starting the new year filled up with family love and time. Blessings on both boys as the return to their growing paths.
Nature informs as Thoreau knew better than most. “The moon is my mistress” for inspiration and guidance this coming year. I am following it and learning more about it. Here is a partial Thoreau quote I recently collected in one my meanderings ~ “ The poet who walks by moonlight is conscious of a tide in his thought…”. And so we find commons paths through nature. Onto a new near with a new moon starting tomorrow. May it be a wonderful one for all of us who have found our way to the “table”!
Oh so beautiful. Love the image of tides of the moon….
Love to you, wise one…
I’m wandering that common path through nature with both of you, bam and lamcal! My resolution for the new year is “let us be witnesses of wonder — perceiving all nature as a prayer come alive.” Which quote I plucked from bam’s post around the time of the Jewish high holy days. And I just started reading Thoreau’s WALDEN yesterday! I’m pretty sure I read it or parts of it in high school, but it sure resonates with me more now than it did back then. Blessings to all at the table as we wander the common path in 2019! xoxoxo, hh
love that you are reading walden. we shall walk through thoreau’s woods together. and perhaps a winter walk, ensemble, is in order……
A winter walk sounds divine.
I’m in for the winter walk also … with hot cocoa and gab after? xo
oh, you all know how to plan a field trip. fine woods by skokie lagoon.
Did I read your closing line correctly that today is your birthday?? If so, happiest of days to you, despite your sweet boy flying off back to school. How did those days fly by so quickly?? If I misinterpreted that last line; happy Friday to you Barb 🙂 Thanks for another wonderful post. I, as so many others do, find wonder in nature. Running along the lake one morning this week in the predawn, the crescent moon hung low & so bright in the sky. It looked pretend it was so perfect. I had to stop running several times to marvel at the beauty.
oh, dear heavens, that sounds heavenly. running along the lake in the predawn. you are an even earlier bird than i am! i venture no further in the predawn than my bird feeders, and backyard star gazing. that sounds breathtaking (in all ways) to run along the lake beneath the moon and morning stars.
and, yes, i’m a 1.3 baby. now caught up with everyone else in diving into the new year…..(my start to the newness is always on three-day delay, as i begin mostly with the cusp of my birthing day….) and, yes, the sweet boy, sustained by your asiago-pepper bread, is soon to flap his wings eastward again. we were trying to figure out if i could ship him your breads. xoxox
Oh, what a lovely way to begin the new year: reading Walden. My favorite Thoreau quote is, “I frequently tramped eight or ten miles through the deepest snow to keep an appointment with a beech-tree, or a yellow birch, or an old acquaintance among the pines.” When I had a dog to walk, I regularly checked in with an aged catalpa in Margate Park. I was relieved to see it again last summer during a long walk home through the park and spoke words of admiration and encouragement to it. I love it because I love the aged catalpa in the parkway in front of my house.
Thank you for reminding me to slow down and pay attention to moments of wonder. I am one of those people who are always moving too fast.
And thank you for another book recommendation, bam.
Happy new year to all at the table!
We could spend the year plucking favorite Thoreauvian quotes. I love the one you picked. And love imagining your acquaintanceship with the catalpa.
You will LOVE the book, and spill as much ink as I have, I imagine….
Happy blessed new year❤️
New year, new beginnings, new ideas, new attitudes, and, of course, a celebration of the wonder that is you, dearest bam. Happiest of birthdays and blessings in manifold measure. Let’s have a great year, cherished friend. xox
we shall, indeed, birthday angel. love that we share this brrrr-cold month. (at least here along the great lake it’s brrr-cold.) xoxox