Down the Road

Together, we walk down the road. Me, swaying and stomping in the tawny fallen leaves of oaks and beeches.

Beren, quieted by his first breath of cold winter air, breathing in the cool notes of leaf and mist, birdsong and wind.

We rock back and forth as much as go forward. He's lulled by the motion and soon sleeping, his senses tuned to the wild world's air.

Something about transportation seems to quiet a baby down. I imagine myself as a horse in a nomadic caravan, or a family on foot moving through the ancient savannah, even as a refugee fleeing in the night. In all cases, babies that became quiet when parents were on the move probably fared best.

But on this walk, I imagine the rocking as a kind of circulation, moving Beren through the sensations of his world -- feeling the sun as it streams through intertwined branches, smelling the odor of wet stones and clay when we cross the stream.


I make introductions as we walk - Black Birch, clad in silver-purple: makes tea that will soothe you when you ache. Shagbark: we'll plant some of your children when Beren is a little older. White Oak: thanks for being here, I hope you watch over my child as you've watched over us.

Familiar friends, but fresh, too; new in the crisp winter air, winter which hadn't yet arrived when we went to the hospital to give birth, but was here when we returned several days later.

I look into the forest on both sides of the lane. I think how all these plants, birds, stones, streams and soils have changed and shaped each other across deep time. How once Birch was sent along the path of being Birch by some unknowable event in prehistory, it became committed in some ways - wind pollination, catkins of small seeds, healer of disturbed ground. Birch will never again have a chance to become Oak, though Birch may change as radically as that through the deep time ahead.

We pass the small stream with the cardinal flowers, grown freely from tiny seeds peppered into the silt of the banks, germinating when waters are low. I consider Cardinal Flower, and Hummingbird, its ally -- now flown to the south for the flowerless season. There are no hummingbirds outside the New World. Would our Cardinal Flower exist without them? Would its deep-tubed flowers, strewn scarlet, reflect in the stream's summer waters if not for its pollinator? What is a word for this bond between flower and bird, for the relationship that makes those that comprise it take their shape in the world?

What is the word for the thousand relationships that make a White Oak bear gently lobed leaves and small, glossy acorns?

I believe that the word for these relationships is the sacred.


This world of change, of evolution across unfathomable time, can challenge our sense of meaning.

Why is White Oak? Because of Blue Jay and Squirrel and Caterpillars and Acid Soils and Rainfall.

Why is Blue Jay? Because of White Oak and Squirrel and Caterpillar and Acid Soils and Rainfall.

Where is God in this picture? To me, this relationship, always altering, communicating, observing, sensing -- this is the sacred. To have a God who fixed it all in the beginning -- that is a cop-out, fear of chaos, an attempt to render unfathomable changes across unknowable time somehow fixed and static.

I'd rather call White Oak my god, but -- even better to say that the sacred moves in White Oak. Moves even in the dried crackling oak leaves beneath my feet as my newborn son and I walk, sleep, breathe in the flavors of the particular which are the permeable walls of our temple.


I remember a class in High School where we were asked to describe our vision of our own future. I remember a quiet, unremarkable boy who said he hoped to be "perfect". I was shocked, not by the presumptuousness -- it was a moment where we all bared our hearts in some way -- but by his idea of "perfect". How could someone be perfect? Aren't all of our lives and decisions relational? Wouldn't a good action in one situation be a bad or imperfect one in a slightly different situation? Could you really distill through all of the causes and outcomes of one's actions and decide that they were perfect?

I figured you'd have to deny the relational aspect of reality altogether and replace it with a fixed code. Cut off the senses, cut off feelings, disengage from future and past. Deny failure, abstain from urges, abdicate life.


We walk further down the road. I step off the gravel, rustle some brown hornbeam leaves hanging on a twig. Beren is awake now and watches the leaves, hanging like forgotten laundry from the dormant winter branches.

Besides the hornbeams and sapling beeches, all the other trees have shed their leaves. I can see deep into the forest on either side of me. I see tall, ancient trunks, lichen-clad boulders, deep leaf litter.

I also see a wrack and ruin of fallen branches, split trees, upheaved rootballs, all of the evidence of storms and fungus and death laying bare and undisguised before me. I see shit and failure and old tattered nests that had been hidden in the dense thorny stems of wild roses.

Nature doesn't hide the dark and rotting sides of the cycle from us. Change can be a horror, it can seem like the disappearance of the old. But the old is always woven into the new, and it is the new that brings us wonder and sustenance.

If we abjure the negative, we deny new life as well.

Any idea of "God" that is based in moral perfection or immalleable, immaculate creation is a power conceit. It's authoritarianism of the spirit.


I can't help but think ahead in Beren's life. I have many hopes, many illusions. Will he befriend the birds, defend the plant people, find love and peace?

I don't know Beren's future nor would I desire to face such an enormous thing, all at once, ahead of time. My hopes and illusions can hover gently, sometimes shielding reality, sometimes revealing some small secret.

I look again into the forest. I see the deep impression of tracks molded in last year's leaves. I see the proud trunks of my friends - black birch, shagbark hickory, white oak. I watch dark-eyed juncos scatter from the road ahead of me. And I see once again the bracket fungus, the broken limb, the kill site, the narrow escape, the scat and the urine. I see the old and the new and the in-between, in constant circulation.

My main hope for my son is that he partake in this circulation, drinking deeply from the stream when coolness is needed, burning brightly when heat is wanting, and feeling the sacred in the world.

Together we walk down the road, rocking, swishing, swaying, and listening to the crackle of the tawny fallen leaves of oaks and beeches.