Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
Ordinarily, I go to the woods alone, with not a single friend, for they are all smilers and talkers and therefore unsuitable.
I don’t really want to be witnessed talking to the catbirds or hugging the old black oak tree. I have my way of praying, as you no doubt have yours.
Besides, when I am alone I can become invisible. I can sit on the top of a dune as motionless as an uprise of weeds, until the foxes run by unconcerned. I can hear the almost unhearable sound of the roses singing.
If you have ever gone to the woods with me, I must love you very much.
Please bring strange things.
Please come bringing new things.
Let very old things come into your hands.
Let what you do not know come into your eyes.
Let desert sand harden your feet.
Let the arch of your feet be the mountains.
Let the paths of your fingertips be your maps
and the ways you go be the lines on your palms.
Let there be deep snow in your inbreathing
and your outbreath be the shining of ice.
May your mouth contain the shapes of strange words.
May you smell food cooking you have not eaten.
May the spring of a foreign river be your navel.
May your soul be at home where there are no houses.
Walk carefully, well loved one,
walk mindfully, well loved one,
walk fearlessly, well loved one.
Return with us, return to us,
be always coming home.
It’s been a wet and windy week, persistent cloud cover and blowing rain accentuating the ever-present gloom. At this time of year you can sleep in and still get up before the sun. I light the candles for my morning devotionals in complete darkness most days.
The ancient Greeks don’t seem to have ascribed much significance to the solstices. That far south, the swing in duration of daylight from solstice to equinox to solstice again would not be nearly so dramatic, even before the days that electric lights extend our waking hours. But here in the Pacific Northwest, when you’re leaving for work in the dark, coming home in the dark, and looking out the window at gray sky and pouring rain in between, the encroaching darkness takes on a significance of its own. This region’s seasonal cycle fits the Wiccan Wheel of the Year, construct that it is, very well, and even though I only follow it socially these days, marking the longest night in particular seems appropriate.
It’s a time of gathering in and taking stock. My practice shifted to a more rigorous and formal level this year in a number of ways; so too, the devotional group Wild Gods (as distinct from this blog) has been having some conversations about our future, what we want our collective identity and practice to look like, whether to engage in more public or semi-public work, whether to formally associate ourselves with groups and organizations doing things similar to what we do. What does it mean to follow gods whose apogee of worship took place millennia ago? What does it mean to follow a devotional cycle established in a place different in climate, geography, and culture than the one which we inhabit? We aren’t the first to be asking these questions; we won’t be the last. Once you answer the first question (why worship any gods at all?) there are only more questions to come.
A few years ago, hygge experienced one of those brief swells of interest that are a hallmark of this interconnected age of short attention spans. For me this season in particular has been wrapped in that feeling, like an envelope of coziness and physical and emotional comfort. Perhaps it’s a reaction to political uncertainty (to understate the situation in America rather a lot), or the full leafing-out of middle age (I’m 44), or the awareness both of my own personal good fortune and of how many are struggling to just keep a roof over their heads and food in their mouths despite living in the richest, most productive country the world has ever known. Maybe I’m just tired. But this week in particular I’ve been wrapping the darkness around me like a blanket, listening to the wind and rain beating against the walls of my house. Even the weather becomes an insulator.
It’s a time to rest. It’s also a time to think about the future, as soon the daylight will begin to lengthen, the weather to shift, the earth to awaken, the sprouts to poke out of the soil, the migrating birds to journey north, the mammals stir out of their winter nests. Not a time to plan, not yet. Planning is too ambitious, for this season.
Read about forests and sooner or later you come across the idea of mycorrhizal networks: networks of fungi that connect the root systems of trees, enabling them to transfer water, nutrients, and minerals to one another. In his book The Hidden Life of Trees, Peter Wohlleben describes trees feeding a stump in their midst, such that the stump, long deprived of trunk and branch and leaf, still shows signs of life. Hidden underground, the existence of these networks wasn’t even suspected until relatively recently; fungi were thought to be harmful to trees, never beneficial. Instead, they turn out to be a mechanism of resource sharing, and even communication.
If you think that this sounds like a social network, well, you wouldn’t be the first. But to me at least it seems like a far richer such network than the technological intermediations that now permeate our lives. If I’m moved to indulge in metaphor, I think of social networks in the older sense: a holistic conception of the connections of friendship, family, community, common interest, shared culture, and all of the other ways that human beings find to connect and reciprocate. It is these connections that people fear are being lost in favor of the technologically intermediated, though I think the picture is far more nuanced than that–my own networks are shaped differently than they would have been if, say, Facebook did not exist, but that doesn’t automatically mean that they’re poorer.
Instead, I think about the quality of those connections, and how often they’re reinforced. As I get older I find myself with fewer of them, but those fewer are often richer–as long as I take care to nurture those that nurture me. I think that we are living in time when these networks are increasingly important. Life in America can become disjointed, disconnected, with surprising ease. We cannot take the networks which sustain us for granted, and which are too often invisible until they actually vanish.
The land that my husband and I are stewarding has a substantial number of madrona trees. Despite thriving in challenging conditions, madronas are notoriously hard to establish. The recognition that the specific mycorrhizal fungi that enable them to establish networks and thrive–that this is why you rarely see a madrona by itself–is quite recent. The lesson that we must feed each other in order to survive is obvious, of course, but I’ve also been thinking of this in terms of relationships that, if less fundamental, are no less critical to our well being as humans. What are our mycorrhizal connections, and how do we make sure to sustain them?