I take a deep breath in.
First, those little purple flowers that seemed to take over entire lawns emerged — I couldn’t tell you their name if I tried, but they make me feel like I’m witnessing magic happen. Then, it was the vast amount of cherry blossoms around campus that began to bud and bloom with their wonderfully sweet bouquets. It was no longer frigid every time I stepped outside, my bare skin begging for a sweater on my bike rides to class. Suddenly, it was apparent that spring was a lot closer than I previously thought. For some reason, I think I was still holding on hope for the chance of an early March snowfall.
I let my breath out.
As I walk through the entrance of the woods, I notice a lot has changed since I was here last Sunday. For starters, it’s much brighter out, which makes sense considering I decided to start my trek in the early morning hours instead of around sunset today. This has proven to make all the difference. With the sun’s strong rays shining on me, I feel invigorated. The trees have begun to sprout these beautiful emerald buds and there are early signs of life all around me. In sharp contrast to these little hints, I notice ivy crawling up the sides of a decaying oak tree, sucking the energy and nutrients from it, and it makes me think. In every instance of birth, there is death. And in every episode of pure, unadulterated happiness, there is bitter, unresolved depression that follows. This natural order of things, the constant flow of ups and downs, has become more and more apparent to me after an insightful in-class conversation about Taoism.
I had to really force myself out of bed this morning — some days are just harder than others, ya know? These feelings of inadequacy and deep, rooted sadness comes in waves — but I’m really glad I woke up instead of sleeping in. If I had ignored my alarm (like I usually do) and easily drifted back into the enticing call of slumber, I might have missed this. I might have let another beautiful morning pass me by without appreciating how optimistic a new day can seem when you watch the world wake up around you — the possibilities feel endless. I might have missed feeling energy rush through my body as nature and all of its glory empowered me. I might have forgotten that when I am in the woods, I feel more like myself than I do anywhere else. Among the trees and dirt and familiar babbling creek, I feel myself get lifted out of this funk that keeps dragging me down. It’s like hitting a reset button. Being in White Clay helps me remember who I am.
I was never a big fan of organized religion. It was something that was really hard for me to wrap my mind around, the idea of blind faith and all. Still, I wanted to be. I wanted to have the strength to believe in some higher plan, a purpose that was unwavering, and the idea that I could make mistakes and still be unconditionally accepted. But I just can’t. Although I do not consider myself a very religious person, I do believe that I’m a very spiritual person. Like Nanabozho, I feel as though my purpose is to try as hard as I can to blend in with my surroundings. Now, I’m not talking about plastering myself in camouflage or anything, but about discovering the life around me, observing how things coexist and thrive together, and learning each organism’s place to become as indigenous to my environment as possible. I look around at the plants next to me and I know they’ve been here way before humans ever touched the earth. It is not my job to dominate over the living world and to treat it as my playground, free to do whatever I wish. Instead, it is my job to respect the life that has been living here long before me, and to make sure others know to do the same. I look up at the branches hanging over my head and as usual, I feel a rush of serenity, gratitude, and amazement wash over me.
Broken from my thoughts, I hear the hooting of an owl. Huh. That’s odd, I thought owls were only really awake at night. It’s been a few weeks since I’ve started this project and it’s only been on my most recent trip to White Clay that I’ve realized how much I tune into my surroundings when I’m in the midst of nature. As I walked down the long paved road to my solemn spot among rocks and I was really starting to learn how to listen now. Before this assignment, I was used to popping in earbuds as I walked outside, wanting to send a clear message to those around me that I was not in the mood for conversation — I had places to go and better things to do than stop and exchange small talk (blech!) with someone I barely knew for a few minutes. Anyways, the point is that when I’m in the woods, I don’t feel the need to pop earbuds in. Instead, I prefer to listen to the bright songs of birds, the shake of dead leaves as a breeze rushes through the branches, and today, the surprising hoot of an owl.
Like Nanabozho, I was once unaware, oblivious. He was sent to learn from the world, to not be a destructive force, but one that melds harmoniously with nature and all its counterparts. Nature was his biggest teacher. This is something I can relate to. I came from an unknowing state, wandering — not aimlessly — but without being fully aware of where I needed to go. I once looked at the towering structures around me and did not know what to call them. I continue to be in complete awe of the world around me and fear doing it wrong. I was once timid and nervous about mislabeling species, not knowing who I was among the birds and dirt and trees. But like Nanabozho, I put myself in the middle of it all, and instead of impatiently searching for all the answers, I stopped. I listened — just as I am doing today and have been for the past few weeks.
Breathe in, breathe out.
What does the creek have to say? What are the squirrels, running amok in the fallen leaves and sprouting grasses, chattering about to one another? Do the trees share my sense of invigoration as they awaken from their deep winter dormancy? How will this place look in only one or two more weeks? How will life have changed and altered and twisted and blossomed? Like Nanabozho, I don’t come with all the answers. But through thinking of myself as a sister to the life around me instead of some higher being, I hope to learn.