The Congregation of the Natural World

As I left the house, I felt a an exhilarating sense of expectation, as if something special was about to occur. It was a beautiful, sunny day, about 65 degrees Fahrenheit, not a cloud in the sky. I bundled up my son, Jaedyn, ever wide-eyed and curious, settled him into his stroller and started off down Main Rd toward the Community Center and the trails crisscrossing a small Wilderness Area bordering the Lake of Two Mountains.

These have been the trails that Siräyah and I have been walking since we’ve been living here in Hudson, Quebec. We find nature to be good for the soul. Getting out and experiencing the ambiance of the natural environment is invigorating and mood-enhancing. While the area possesses a relatively limited walking space compared to the kilometers of biking and walking trails that bordered the Saint Lawrence River in Cornwall that we used to walk in the days and evenings – watching the skies and the waters while exploring life and that which lies beyond during our time in that city – it does have a certain character and spirit that we find particularly engaging.

A stream now finishing with the torrents of snow melt and settling into the Spring’s flow as the grass, flowers and leaves spring forth in preparation and the weather titillates like a shy girl, flush and vibrant with beauty. The crisp cool of the air embraced us as the boy and I strolled along the sidewalk, observing the bustling little town of Hudson engaged in the morning rituals of Canadian-style civilization.

We walked by the bakery and the art salon; a young man with his 2 year old son in a wagon pulled off to the side of the walkway to let us pass. I laughed and told him, “Ah, and see, I was going to make way for you!”

He smiled and gestured us past with a grand sweep of his arm and I nodded, pleased by his theatrics.

We continued on past the community center where an older french man was speaking to his young daughter in a pedantic tone while she answered shortly and querelously.

Turning the corner and walking back toward the railroad tracks and the forest, we passed through the parking lot of the center. An elderly gentleman moved slowly in our direction, nodding curmudgeon-like and muttering a short, “Morning,” as he passed, intent upon the community center and whatever activities he engaged in within.

I responded in kind, accompanying my chipper “Morning!” with a nod of my own and an up-quirked lip.

The center was a generally busy space. We’d visited a few times and spoken with the receptionist as well as looked around. There was art for sale on the walls, open space for auctions, parties and miscellaneous gatherings, chairs and tables for bingo and other group activities and a few curling lanes. It was a nicely built and well-attended public area that we hoped to utilize ourselves someday.

I could feel the cool of the forest even in the general briskness of the day as the concrete parking lot turned to road. The beauty of the Hardwood Forest sub-zone of western-Quebec is beyond question. The region we live in, on the banks of the lower Ottawa River and the local widening of that river known to the natives and euro-Canadians alike as the Lake of Two Mountains, is in the sugar maple/bitternut hickory domain of the sub-zone and this forest extension was representative of the region. Cork elms, swamp white oaks, shagbark hickory, black and sugar maples, pitch pine, fir and spruce trees are abundant in this diverse realm on the very edge of two northern climate zones and we appreciated the diversity, energetic aspects and natural beauty greatly.

The boy and I continued our funky expedition. We bumped over the railroad tracks onto the gravel road leading back into the forests and I looked  at the main path leading in, through the bars of an old, rusted, cast iron gate. I could see the leaf-strewn brownness of the path leading between the chapeled trees, most still browned and bare but beginning to display the pale greens and deeper hues of the onrushing spring.

always walk down that path whenever I enter the forest from this direction, as it is a straight shot from the main street but today, for some reason, the thought of the alternate path – just 20 feet distant – leading along the banks of the stream toward the bridge from further down the gravel road, came to mind. A couple days before I’d noticed it as I hadn’t walked down it since last Fall, when Siräyah and I used to jog in the forests. But on this day I felt an irresistable urge to walk it even though it was just a bit further to get to it and it led to the same destination.

As soon as we entered the woods, I felt it. The trees were greening, small leaves budding and the smell of pines and vibrant growth filled my nostrils with a heady scent. As I inhaled, my heart – already open, warm and receptive – filled with what can only be described as an onrushing cascade of love. I was immersed within it, my out-breath and Tonglen training immediately and almost automatically sending that love multiplied back in response, out into the trees, the stream, the underbrush and whatever life dwelt therein, present in that moment, communing with us.  I basked in the feeling, looking around me in amazement because this could be nothing less than the forest welcoming me. I laughed thickly, still breathing in that energy, that love and breathing it back out as the colors grew more vibrant, the scene around me imprinting upon my memory in all of its natural beauty and intensity.

I stood there for a few minutes engaged in rapturous communication with the forest. It seemed as if we were speaking at the deepest level, beyond words, beyond concepts, beyond ideas, at the level of existence itself. Never distant from tears in the best of times they now flowed freely as did my low and amazed laughter as I basked in the joy of existence, sharing it with my ethereal and material friends of the natural world.

I walked in front of the stroller to look down at the boy. He was staring out into the distance, but when I moved into his field of vision he looked at me with his typical deadpan seriousness. I laughed, because it looked for all the world like he was thinking, Ok Pops, it’s a forest already. This is how they talk. What, you forgot? Come on, let’s go.

I chuckled and shook my head, my entire body pleasantly tingling with the remnants of the energy exchange between the forest and I.  We crossed the bridge over the stream and greeted another couple with a dog. They smiled and spoke and continued on down another trail as we took the path they had just vacated deeper into the marsh area heading toward the lake. As we neared an overlook I began to hear a deep, groaning chorus of croaks and warbles that quieted when we stepped onto the wooden platform that served as an observation area.

In that particular part of the forest the winter runoff had caused an overflow of water during the past few weeks as the weather warmed that had left the seasonally dry terrain overflowing the banks of the meandering stream channels. A large pond had formed as a result. A pond that had dwindled as the winter snow melt completed and the streams of the area returned to their normal confines.

A few days before I’d learned that there were beavers in the area when speaking to a native of the region and observed a small one working industriously a bit further down the stream bed. Considering its size, its parents must have been responsible for the building of the dam that had resulted in the formation of this pond, which I was searching curiously for some sign of the creatures who were singing such a singular song.

As I stood there watching, the song resumed in its previous intensity, our presence noted and dismissed, apparently deemed insignificant. The chorus alternated in surround-sound from both sides in a call-and-response patterning that felt to me like flirting. I smiled, realizing that it was indeed Spring and mating season had once again arrived. I looked down at the boy, taking note of his heavy lids and generally somnolent behavior. The forest was like a narcotic to him, he always fell asleep whenever we spent time there. We continued our trek, leaving the strange creatures – probably toads or frogs of some sort although I saw neither hide nor wart of one – to their private conversations.

The forest felt magical. My body continued to tingle from the earlier energetic exchange with the forest and I was now being bombarded on all sides by new stimuli. A bird here, a rustle in the bushes, there. My senses were afire and everything glowed with a luminescence I attribute to an altered state of consciousness brought about by my sudden welcoming into the Congregation of the Natural World. The day itself was brilliant and the slight breeze flowed around us, whispering secrets just beyond the range of hearing. The Now moment was prescient and pregnant with potentiality and all else receded as we turned parallel to the river following the path toward the sandy beach.

As we approached the beach, I noticed a few crows in the trees. We stopped by a particular tree, a pitch pine that I’d passed many times before. I remembered just a few days earlier I’d noticed it and felt drawn to it for some reason. I chuckled to myself, as I’d actually hugged the tree after looking around to make sure I was alone. The next time I’d passed it I met Glenn and we’d had a wonderful conversation. As I stood there looking at it I remembered that I’d felt a bit peeved at the time, as I wanted to spend time with the tree and here was this guy showing up right at the moment I was walking by it. The synchronicity was not lost on me and I wondered if the tree had planned the whole thing.

The pervasive joy coursing through me had settled into a steady vibratory resonance of peace and I moved to the tree, examining it, particularly it’s roots. It was large, over 100 years old and the root system was extensive. To the rear of the tree, closest to the water, the soil had been washed away by the natural action of the lake as it rose and fell yearly with the melting and runoff of the winter seasons, so that the roots were exposed.

It’s beautiful, I realized. Sit. Meditate. The thought came to me suddenly and it seemed like the only possibility in that moment. The boy was sleeping peacfully, his face serene in the morning sunlight. I turned his stroller so that he was facing me and I then sat among the roots, finding a perfect position that left me grounded and steady. It felt as if the location had been waiting for me and I thanked the tree silently as I settled in.

A crow sounded above with a danger call. Three caws. Another answered, about twenty meters distant with three of its own. I noticed, but paid little mind as I looked around, relaxing, looking into the forest, still totally in the Now moment, my senses alert. The crow sounded again with a rally call. Four caws. I contemplated the crows and the meanings of their caws for a moment before a snapped branch and a sense of presence alerted me to a woman and her dog, approaching from the direction of the crows, and the sandy beach. As she passed, she looked at me curiously and smiled. “Hello.”

“Hello,” I replied, smiling back. Her dog huffed shortly and I said, “Hello to you too!”

She looked at me and said, “Excuse me?”

I replied, “Oh, your dog said hello also, I was speaking to him.”

The woman laughed and looked at the dog, still walking past, “Oh, she talks all the time.”

I laughed in return and watched them for a moment as they continued on and then returned my attention to the forest. It soon stilled, the only sounds the gentle wave action of the lake behind us and the ambient rustling of the forest, interspersed with the harsh croaking of crows, the one closest to me still sending out updates every few minutes, others in distant trees responding.

My breath evened and I entered Samatha meditation, my eyes unfocused, gazing down at the ground, alternating between dirt and twigs, my mind stilling, the thoughts slowing. I concentrated on the breath for a while, steadying my seat, feeling the connection to the ground in that space, the earth, this forest and the tree. Resonant energy seemed to emanate from the very forest itself, a white, misty nothingness that twirled, twisted and undulated around the edges of my vision. The ground itself moved, also flowing, rising and falling with my breath, or like the lake and river beyond, unbound by the laws of the material world.

It felt only natural when I found myself engaging in Tonglen. With the in-breath I concentrated first upon the area, breathing in the energy of the forest, feeling it fill me, then with the out-breath, sending out love and peace. The air around me contracted with each taking, expanded with each sending. I then moved to the city of Hudson, envisoning its people going about their business, breathing in and taking their pain, their heartache, seeing it as black, crusty oil surrounding my heart.  With the outbreath the tar-like substance dissipated in a burst of light and love as I sent energy outwards, intentioning harmony and higher states of consciousness.

With each breath in and out I expanded my vision to the next town over, Saint Lazare; then Montreal, then all of Quebec, then Canada and North America, then the Americas and the world. I found my parents, my siblings, cousins, other loved ones, including them, taking and sending. With each breath, I felt the energy growing, burgeoning, filling me, the breathes lengthening, the crust surrounding my heart thickening and then exploding as the energy shone from my heart outwards, always enough, ever enough to dissipate any negativity, for myself, those around me and the world.

I continued on in this vein for about 15 minutes before halting, returning to breath meditation in order to come down. My body was resonating still from the energy expenditure, I could feel elation, peace, a real and steady connection to the forest, to the world. A sense of grounding and of presence that I hadn’t felt in a long time. After regaining my equilibrium and grounding myself, I relaxed into the meditation for another 10 minutes or so before ending it.

I looked around. Immediately, the crow above me cawed. Four caws. The rally cry again. Answered from a few trees away. Then again, a bit more distant. I stood, feeling a bit faint and out of it. I was a bit surprised, but realized that I’d spent a lot of energy in the last half an hour. I was not tired but a bit disconnected from my body, while still being utterly in tune with my surroundings.

We continued on to the beach area. Jaedyn was still asleep. The crow that had sat in the tree next to mine the entire time I’d been meditating took flight in the same direction I was walking, cawing ahead. Danger, danger. He was answered and I realized then that, ok, this was a really weird experience.

The path opened up into the beach area. The glacial till of this region of western Quebec was known for it’s sandy character and I remember my amazement to find better sand on the river beaches here in Canada than existed down on the Gulf of Mexico.

The crows were still cawing away, now there had to be four or five of them, still close to us in the trees above. I decided for some reason to push the boy’s stoller out onto the beach itself, leaving the relative stability of the forest ground, out closer to the water. I’d never even walked down this section of the beach before, but felt that I had to.

The caws had become a steady but jarring cacaphony above, but as we left the shelter of the trees and moved out onto the beach they took on a different character, became more punctuated, briefer, including growls and high-pitched screeches. They were engaging in the fight call. Something had changed. I stopped the stroller about halfway between the beach and the forest and looked up.

Directly above us were two red-tailed Hawks, circling majestically, each in the opposite direction to the other. Only 4 to 5 meters distant, I gaped up at the raptors in total amazement and felt an unexpected surge of love and gratitude which I, again, automatically sent outwards and upwards towards them. In return I received a jolt of acknowledgement accompanied by unmistakable impressions of mission and of purpose and of destiny.  My heart opened wide and the tears once again coursed down my cheeks as the beauty and majesty of the experience washed over me.

The rightness of the moment and the perfection of the synchronicty was too obvious to mistake as the birds of prey circled above us exactly once, twice, three times. It felt like a sign. It was a sign that I was meant to notice and remark upon; something too direct, too purposeful, too intelligent to be coincidence on that fateful day.

After making their point, the raptors drifted away on the winds, to the west, slowly. I watched one tilt and glide lazily southwards while the other continued west, going their separate ways, both eventually disappearing over the trees.  I noticed then that the crows were gone. Or being very quiet.

I stood there, breathing hard in the aftermath, as if I’d just finished a 26 mile marathon, my mind reeling with the implications of the succession of events I’d just experienced. As I wheeled the boy off the beach and we walked back through the forest, I wrestled with the memories, already casting them as a tale told and searching for meaning.

I stopped at the bridge again on the way out and built a small dolmen with three rocks, two round and one long, placing the structure precariously on a large boulder near the water. As we exited the forest I looked back, wondering if I would ever have such an experience again. The day seemed to grow brighter in response and the moment opened up, revealing, once more, the perfection and magic to be found right Now and in every Now following, from here unto Eternity.

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