(listening time: 6:07 minutes)
Asha and I rounded the corner and came to an abrupt stop.
The milkweed plants I had wanted to visit were gone. So were the asters, mints, gentians, nightshades, raspberries, grasses and reeds. Of the willows, alders, cedars and sumacs, all that remained were mangled trunks.
As I looked at the barren landscape that October morning, my thoughts turned to a July morning when our walk along this trail had filled me with delight, awe and wonder.
I remembered inhaling the heavy fragrance of Common Milkweed flowers and eating sun-warmed Black Raspberries. Then sitting by the brook and listening to water spill over the rocks while watching orange butterflies dance from pink flower to pink flower.
It hurt to see this cherished spot so changed. We’d come upon mowed sections of this trail before, but never to this extent.
“Why, why, why?” I wanted to shout. “Why did they cut so much?”
“Did they consult the goldfinches and sparrows before cutting down the willows and alders? And what about the willows and alders themselves? Did they ask the milkweed and Monarchs for permission?”
As I walked and ranted, I realized that my grief and anger were about more than the absence of flowers, shrubs, grasses and reeds I’ve gotten to know and love.
They were also about what happened upon returning home from that awe-filled July walk.
I had settled in, as I usually do, with a cup of tea and a blank page in my notebook where, ever since Asha pulled me into the woods four years ago, I’ve journaled about our walks to help me notice more. To witness the seasons. To become better acquainted with my more-than-human neighbors. To deepen my reverence for this land.
Recording all the details I could remember from our walk, my delight spilled over into an impulse to share the wonders of the morning in a Field Note or a Walks with Asha story.
Almost immediately I felt my body constrict.
There was something about sharing these moments in written form beyond the pages of my journal that sent me spiraling into doubt. Although I easily interrupt an in-walk conversation with a friend to draw their attention – saying things like “Come, smell these flowers” and “Here, taste a raspberry” and “Do you hear American Goldfinches chatting with each other?” – it didn’t feel like enough to share these same wonders, delights in writing.
Why not? I’d asked myself. What if I give myself permission to let it be enough?
While I did write that Field Note, over the months that followed, it continued to bother me that I had felt I needed permission to write about moments of beauty, of delight, of wonder in the woods. Especially when I’d felt so deliciously full, so grateful for these summer riches.
Seeing this landscape that was lush in July mowed down in October, I felt anger rise up. “Why the hell doesn’t sharing wonder in writing feel like it’s enough, Asha? When did that happen? How?”
I can’t point to a specific experience and say, “This. This is when it happened. This is when I lost my natural experience and expression of wonder.” More likely it was a gradual accumulation of moments, of messages, direct and indirect, about what is and isn’t important. And slowly wonder, and with it, my voice, was locked away in a cupboard, and someone else had the key, while I focused on getting good grades, following the rules and generally being a good girl.
On our walks I’m connecting with the woods, this place I call home – and with lost and neglected parts of myself. This internal homecoming hasn’t been an active, conscious, cognitive thing. I don’t leave the house saying, “You know, Asha, I think I’ve lost my exuberant wonder. Let’s go find it today.” Yet, the more I walk, pay attention and notice, the more I experience wonder and the more natural it feels to express it.
So, on that October morning, when I rounded the corner and saw a barren landscape instead of a field of autumnal beauty, I raged and then I started to grieve. I grieved for the plants, for the more-than-human beings. I grieved for my younger self. I mourned for her loss of wonder.
“Hell, yes.” I said to Asha and the woods. “My wonder is important, essential.”
And I knew in my bones that not only is writing about wonder enough, it is holy.