Peeking out my window this morning, I see that it is lightly raining. Its slowly melting away the snow/ice that covered up my backyard, leaving a pitted, muddy mess. After a few days of sunshine, that will clear up – and hopefully my yard won’t be confused as to whether Spring is starting or Winter is here. That’s perhaps one of the stranger parts of living here in Texas. Even after a fall of snow and ice coupled with single digit temperatures (Fahrenheit scale here), we can never be completely sure that Winter has arrived.
In the early to mid 1990s, I lived in Germany (courtesy of the United States Air Force). When Winter arrived, it came in with force. I easily remember snowfalls of a foot or more as a normal occurrence. I loved taking walks in the nearby woods during this time frame. All the sounds were muffled by the dense snow. Occasionally, you could hear the whoosh of a car on the nearby B270, but otherwise it was a very quiet walk. I remember feeling the crunch of the snow crust under my boots, and seeing the mist of my breath as the temperature between the inside of my mouth varied with the much colder air outside. I loved being outside here. Even though the “forest” was really a set of old-growth trees that set the German town of Hohenecken apart from the US military’s Vogelweh Housing Area, I could still feel the spirits of the land embedded deeply here. Every once in a while though, I had to go deeper, and there were plenty of old growth forests with hundreds of walking trails all around to explore. I spent a lot of time walking through those old woods.
I found a lot of pieces of old roman fortifications scattered throughout the forest. At least, I supposed that they were. I wasn’t there to do archeology or find some piece of history. I
was there to experience a forested area I had slowly fallen in love with. I would carry two meals into the woods with me, safely tucked in my backpack, along with two huge thermoses of water, a blanket, a book, and a rain poncho (it rains a lot in the Kaiserslautern area). And I would walk. I certainly had a lot on my mind during those days – but I tried to leave everything else behind on my walk, and just enjoy the countryside. And just listen.
When I first started walking, I would bring friends or coworkers with me, thinking it would be a great experience that they could share with me. I wound up having someone along that would talk constantly, and the sounds of what I was wanting to experience would shrink away from the intrusive noisiness of the offending interlopers. I gradually learned it was better to walk alone. Then I could stop at certain intervals and just listen. The wind would quietly whisper through the tree branches and leaves. The birds and other inhabitants of the forest would sing their songs to one another. And everything back at my workplace or back at my apartment in the Vogelweh Housing Area, would disappear…take a back seat to the sounds that I was experiencing – what I was being invited to hear.
I have tried to do the same here in the United States several times. Its a lot more difficult here. The intrusions by loud interlopers is far more common, even when you walk alone. In Germany, if you encountered two or more people walking on the forested paths, rarely were they talking. And rarely would they engage you in a conversation beyond the nod of a head or a very quiet “Guten Tag”. This past Summer, I took the opportunity to visit some of the most beautiful countryside I have ever seen – Glacier National Park. The scenery was magnificent. One walking trail – Avalanche Lake Trail – take the visitor along the banks of a rushing creek towards a serene lake hidden in the upper valleys between two peaks. The trail would have been an ideal moment of quiet solitude, had it not been for the numerous tourists that walked through talking extremely loud, blaring the speakers on their handheld phones playing their chosen form of “music”, and constantly throwing rocks into the creek. There were several moments where I merely stopped along the side of the trail and let these people pass. It was readily apparent to me that Glacier National Park was not something to be experienced, but rather something to mark off of their “bucket-lists” for Life.
Like many Americans, I have a list of places I would like to go. This past Summer, I achieved two of these – Glacier National Park, and Medicine Wheel. This coming Summer, I will achieve another pair – Disney World and Cape Canaveral in Florida. But there is a difference between the two trips. The Disney World/Cap Canaveral trip is about visiting
something I only wish to see once in my lifetime. I have never been to Disney World in my life…and doubtfully will never go again after my visit. My trip to Canaveral is to see a real Space Shuttle up-close. A moment where I hope not to cry. I have a tremendously deep respect for the space program and all that it has done to advance the knowledge and understanding of our greater environment. But once those trips are done, it is doubtful I will come back. Glacier National Park and Medicine Wheel are different. These are locations where I want to experience more than seeing majestic scenery. Its about something far deeper, far more magickal than a mere visit. Its a replenishment of my soul – adding the mana of life back to me. A reminder that there is so much more to the world than living on the north-end of one of the largest, sprawling Metro-Messes in the United States.
This Yule season, I bought myself a tent. Its nothing outrageous, but it has a purpose. I miss out on so many Pagan gatherings because I have nowhere to sleep. This Summer, after visiting Glacier National Park, and then visiting the very serene and mystical (and quite difficult to get to) Medicine Wheel – I realized that I was doing something similar that the visitors to Avalanche Lake Trail were doing. I was ignoring what I could experience, by embracing a world that was going to hold me back from those experiences. In other words, I clutched on to my excuses that I had nowhere to sleep. That constantly kept me from those gatherings. Now, I’m out of excuses…except where my work interferes in the schedule. And while that sounds like an excuse, its a necessity. As much as I wish the world didn’t run on money – in our current society, it certainly does.