Stillness and serenity. A welcome balm, yet how often do we allow ourselves to fully relax into them? Recently, I stumbled upon a wide still stream, having little idea of the depth of the treasure I would find there when I first found a new path to explore.
There is a city park in our town, not far from my house, with tennis courts and softball fields and picnic areas and even a soapbox derby track. Chattering children, bike riders, happy picnic noises. Community at its best. And the park happens to be on hilly land, so that means there are a lot of forested areas and valleys with creeks in between the developed areas.
I was feeling rather silly that I did not know there were hiking trails in this park, and I went as soon as I could after hearing about them. As I stepped from the parking lot, across the grass, to the trailhead at the edge of the woods, the stillness was already palpable. The woods are such a contrast to our ordered park areas. In the forest everything takes care of itself. Nothing needs mowed, no doctors or nurses are needed to deliver new life, no one is providing food for the birds or wildlife. Stepping into a forest is stepping into a world where life feeds on the dying, and the dying feeds the new life, each and every day.
As I walked down the trail, winding around and over many roots and rocks, around big trees and small, I felt I was going down, going in. A valley in the woods makes me feel hugged and safe. I came to where a wide rock strewn stream bed flattens out, laying open a space where great volumes of water have raced through before. The banks of this creek bed are held and supported by twisted and gnarled roots of trees who have had their skirts lifted and swept away by ravaging waters leaving the stories of their lives exposed for all who come to visit. Have you ever wondered what they have endured? I think of Van Gogh when I see roots like this because Van Gogh’s last painting (unfinished) is of tree roots. He must have been captivated by the tree roots’ stories too.
Today, shallow water is slowly slipping over the rocks, carrying an infinite number of light glimmers on the water’s surface from dappled light coming through the trees. The stream is gently washing this land, soothing it, while laying open to the sky upon the rocks, deep in prayer. The peace and calm belie the days that she has raged through her small valley before. And rage again she will. But today she is still. And serene.
There is something very sensual in the way the curve of the bank is caressed by the gently rippling stream. And I realize my animal body would love to just lay in her warm waters and be gently lapped and washed over, while she tells me her stories. She is like a lover, this stream. If only I weren’t afraid of bugs, getting my clothes wet and dirty, or you know, someone seeing me.
I pick up a heart shaped rock and wonder how long has it been here? Did it just arrive with the last storm, or has it been here waiting a long time? Just for me? And holding it, I get the strong impression that the waters gather here the way blood gathers in our hearts. Today the stream is like a breath held between our heartbeats, a serenity between storms that have gone before and ones that will come again.
What is unleashed on the days that the sky opens? Is it joy or pain or fear or anger that runs through this valley as the land is scraped clean and reshaped by the surging water and dislodged rocks and fallen tree limbs? Perhaps all of those feelings and more. Certainly, on those days this land is anything but still, and the evidence of those days is all around me.
But today, there is only a calm still serenity and a call to just accept this moment, this rock, these waters, with all my open heart. Just be still She says. Accept the Grace. Just for today.
Suddenly, some afternoon thunder rumbles in, breaking up my reverie. A spell is broken that I didn’t realize had slowly woven around me. It is time to go back up the trail, thankful for this gift that allowed me to see the deep joy this Land holds. With my heart shaped rock in my pocket, I walk the path back to my car, offering my footsteps as prayers in return.