It is not new news that my three dogs walk me or entice me at least three and sometimes four times a day down to the little pond which borders our property. It’s not a long walk, maybe half a mile round trip, and my husband Jim, by cutting a switchback trail up the ridge, makes it seem like more of a hike.
The dogs reach the pond long before I do, and often I find the smallest of the bunch, Althea – weighing in at forty pounds – halfway across the water, chasing a duck which she forgets has wings and can fly. I call her back, just her nose and tail visible above the water line.
At the edge of the pond is an old moss-covered rotted stump. Considerate enough to have a ledge for me to sit, I do sit, and am grateful. I think about this old stump, the tree it once was. I peer at the moss and the lichens, slipping into the timelessness of watching spiders, ants, and other small creatures . . . imagining the billions I can’t see.
I think about the roots of this old stump, still exchanging nutrients with the other trees of the woods, still an integral part of our pond ecosystem. I think of Trebbe Johnson and her insistence that the way we heal earth and self is by walking into the wounded and disregarded places, with love and in the recognition of the beauty even in the unlovely
I want to do something in appreciation of this soft damp mossy stump that forms such a perfect cushion for my sitting and my daydreaming.
One morning, on the first of the days walks, I pick up a bright orange mushroom that has been severed from its stem. It looks like a small blaze of fire as I cradle it in my hand, and when I arrive at the stump by the pond, I know what to do with it. I lay it along the side, supported by moss. A couple days go by, and I find a piece of birch bark, which I lay against the side of the stump. Then a cluster of oak leaves which surprises me because there are no oaks in sight. Where did this fly in from, I wonder.
Within a couple weeks, the stump is clothed in shapely sticks, iridescent stones, lichen covered bark, a pine cone or two, a clump of white pine needles, the discarded shells of pine nuts and acorns, even a shell – another curiosity.
By way of confession, I had a struggle with the feather of a blue jay. I wanted to take it home, but didn’t.
I have to say, it’s not only beautiful, this ancient stump, but it’s the perfect expression of my gratitude, for it’s life, for the comfort it offers me, and for the generosity it continues to offer as habitat for immeasurable life, and as food exchange for its kin.
Sitting on the shelf of the stump is a timeless experience. My dogs are content to sit by the waters edge and watch.
Does it matter, I wonder, that I do this? Does it make a difference? Such a small thing!
I like to think it matters to the tree, and to the life which surrounds it, but I can’t be certain about that.
I do know it matters to me. From this simple four-times-a-day ritual emerges an increasing awareness of where I put each foot as I climb the switchback, an increasing consciousness of the exquisite life and beauty of which I am but a small part. The thrushes deep in the woods seem to sing more often and more clearly, or at least I am more aware. The capacity of my heart to deepen and broaden its embrace is a daily gift, and it is enough.
I know that I am a better, kinder, more mindful, more contemplative, and more careful human, as I rejoice in my increasing acceptance into a partnership of life and death, of beauty and gratitude.