Walking in Search of Nature’s Knowledge.

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A VG Serial: Hills of Eden

Episode 7

I have been down through the woods again on a rain-sodden day. There was a sound, through the trees, like a mighty river roaring. The wind was up, booming this illusion through the hollow, as if the earth here was shaped like a huge sea shell that magnified certain vibrations in the ear; the blood coursing through veins, the throb of the heart muscle, the silence itself.

What is here for me among these newly leafed-out May trees? My boots sink into the mud-sog, touch hard stone. It seems so desolate here, so bereft of life. As if the hanging-on winter had stopped the breathing of creatures, imprisoned them in some kind of hibernative somnolence long after the sun finally found its way through the clouds.

There is something here. There is life. Some of it invisible. In the wind, a pulse, a scent, a hint of deer bedded down, squirrels in their dens, quail under brush, in soft wallows. Rabbits hiding in stony crevices, noses twitching, whiskers quivering.

How do we find such places as these? Why do we come here, stay? There are other places; maybe places just as good.

Somewhere, here in these thickening woods, there are answers. It is enough now to stop and touch a tree. There is energy in its trunk, in the tactile sensation of its rough bark. There is a message in the pattern its limbs form against the sky. Shapes, outlines, patterns, frames. Something to sketch in thoughts that crowd the mind, some good empty spaces to search through for whatever may be found: answers, perhaps; meaning.

Stopping here, I am conscious that something is breathing in these woods besides myself. The trees breathe, of course. Oxygen is poison to them, so they expel it, as I expel carbon dioxide. One’s waste is another’s need. The rocks are alive, too, formed of the same star-dust as everything else on this planet, the fine silt of long-ago explosions when there was only Void. And now I sense the rocks and trees, myself, pulsing with the same vital rhythm that courses through the entire universe.

I think of Gustav Mahler and the sobbing plod of percussive patterns forming a backdrop to the brassy, soaring horns, the strings all fighting for a foothold in the Fifth Symphony. Here, in the apparent silence, I hear the bugling of ancient hunting horns in a sylvan glen; the distant baying of hounds on an English moor.

It is so solemn here that music rises up out of the morning dankness, some of it soft and slow, some bright allegro.

Back up the hill, at the house, I can hear the wind chimes on the front porch, delicately melodic. Man-made, these pipe-bells seem oddly apropos here, faintly Oriental. They make clear pure sounds like fine crystal struck with a silversmith’s hammer.

I walk on, out of earshot, beyond the reach of the wind chimes, deeper into the woods, beyond the gurgling, rainy weather creek. A friend tells me there ought to be morels up in the hardwoods, or in the cedar stands where the grass grows a thin carpet in cool shadows. But, I have been to these places and the wild mushrooms still elude me. There is something mystical about these little fungus creatures. Someday, maybe my timing will be right. Maybe I’ll find a sack full. I looked early this year, and late, and while I saw a few edible varieties, they either grew too high on trees, or were too few to bother with, singles, no bigger than marbles.

The walk is rugged, takes me in no particular direction. I get my second wind and there is Bull Shoals Lake beyond this meager creek that flows so seldom. I cross over again, climb the steep slope to a grove that has been partially cleared by woodcutters. There is a seeping spring here, and more grass growing under cedars. Not a morel to be seen. But, I can hear the squirrels now, and a bob white quail piping in a neighbor’s meadow. There are deer rubs on a sapling or two. There is life all around me, in me.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, who saw very deeply into things, once wrote that “the first care of a man settling in the country should be to open the face of the earth to himself by a little knowledge of Nature, or a great deal, if he can; of birds, plants, rocks, astronomy; in short, the art of taking a walk.”

Well, I have taken a walk, and I have opened up the face of the earth. Some of it, anyway. There was a moment or two back there when I felt I could have stayed forever in the woods. Now, breathless, back at the house, I look at the front porch, see the wind chimes tink, hear again the faint music. I am glad the house is here, in this good place.

I am glad the woods are out there and that I can walk them in my search for a little knowledge of Nature.

Hills of Eden will be published every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

Please click the title, Hills of Eden, to read more about Jory Sherman and his books.

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