We Are Not Alone

Gliding about in their shady forest homes, keeping well out of sight, there is a multitude of sleek fur-clad animals living and enjoying their clean, beautiful lives. How beautiful and interesting they are is about as difficult for busy mortals to find out as if their homes were beyond sight in the sky. - John Muir

I'm slowing down in my old age. I am every tailgaters worst nightmare. They should just call me Backroads Granny as I go 10 miles under the speed limit, braking for birds and fallen branches. It's the same when I go hiking. I'm as frustrating to my family as a toddler at the beach, who plops down, satisfied with mixed gravel in the parking lot while the parents cajole and plead with promises of juice and cookies as soon as we get there. On a recent hike to the waterfall at Sugarloaf Ridge, I was meandering down side trails, stooping down, looking through the undergrowth while my daughter howled in frustration, eager to get there. 

She's learned by now, however, that I'm usually looking at something cool. Like Bird's Nest Fungus.

She's learned by now, however, that I'm usually looking at something cool. Like Bird's Nest Fungus.

I hope her tendency to rush past the present moment wasn't implanted by my own example, but it probably was. I did not have infinite patience with her 3 year old dawdling ways, and neither do most parents. I frequently see groups of preschoolers on park trails, one adult at the front, one at the back, engine and caboose pushing the train along, god forbid they should stop. If you're a parent you know exactly why. Forward trajectory is so hard to get with young children, and once you've obtained it, you'll use it to your advantage to get as far as possible before you're stopped again by the quagmire of curiosity over said gravel and/or the need for snacks.

Poop fairies

Poop fairies

Are we there yet? in some variety is on repeat in the background of most people's minds. In observing groups of people hiking, I have noticed that their pace is usually quick and that their interest is on each other and the sharing of their jibber jabbering minds. The point seems to get from A (the parking lot) to B (the waterfall) and all that stuff in between is as uninteresting as the highway median. But slow things down just a notch, and turn down the volume on the chatter and suddenly the world emerges all around us. It's an old platitude, but what if life really isn't about the destination, but the ride?

Air brakes. Going slow also means you don't send up as many alarms, so the geese pay you no mind and come in for a landing right there.

Air brakes. Going slow also means you don't send up as many alarms, so the geese pay you no mind and come in for a landing right there.

You have probably noticed by now that we live in an overstimulating world. Vehicle and machine noise, media, smart phones, bright lights, screens everywhereallthetime...I seriously don't understand how we're not all crazy from it. But actually...I do. We have this neurological capacity called sensory gating that protects us from being overwhelmed. If you imagine that stimuli is a fire hose of information coming in, our brains quickly select out what we have been conditioned not to pay attention to, or what we deem irrelevant, and we only take in that which our thalamas thinks we need in that moment. And folks, we have been taught to 1. Ignore the natural world because it's "irrelevant" and 2. We think that we're alone. With these two ideas as our basis, no wonder we hike rather than meander...arrive, rather than explore. We spin out into the world of thought, barely aware of our feet on the path. 

What if it could be another way?

Half way through our hike, my family realized Granny's wisdom and slowed down. What a good thing too, because otherwise we would have missed these little mud turrets and tunnels. My daughter thinks it's fairies. A total possibility. Could also be ground nesting bees. But I like fairies better.

Half way through our hike, my family realized Granny's wisdom and slowed down. What a good thing too, because otherwise we would have missed these little mud turrets and tunnels. My daughter thinks it's fairies. A total possibility. Could also be ground nesting bees. But I like fairies better.

How fortunate that the adults in your life took you by the hand and walked slowly with you everyday through meadows, forests and mountain paths, in sweet and silent reverence. Remember how special that was? The way that your grandfather taught you that everything was sentient, and that you could connect and talk to trees, rivers, birds, plants and insects. That all you had to do was slow down, learn how to listen beyond the internal chatter until you could heart the slow silent language of everything? Aren't you glad?

I'm very talkative.

I'm very talkative.

Yeah I know. But as Tom Robbins says It's never too late to have a happy childhood.

You are your own best parent now. And you can walk with yourself in sweet and silent reverence, and you can disbelieve that lie you were told. The one about how nature is just a bunch of dead matter, here for our using and abusing. How it's ridiculous to grieve over the clearcut or to worry over the fate of the ants on the sidewalk. That lie about how we're alone. You can stop by the many armed oak, the one with the branches like individual trunks, and rest your forehead on her mossy trunk. You can accept the initial twinge of feeling foolish, because the next thing that happens is you feel like you are being held by the most ancient of grandmothers and she whispers visions through your inner sight of what it is like to be her, standing here in this fraction of her long life, and you will feel running in your marrow the delight of receiving birds and wind and lichen and water and sun. And you will know joy.

 

(p.s. Folks who can't filter out as much stimulation as others have lower sensory gating and there's a name for it. Highly Sensitive Person. They also tend to more creative but need solitude, as Franz Kafka said, "not like a hermit, but more like a dead man.")

(p.p.s. The title is obvious but what actually went through my head is that song from The Breakfast Club by the same name. The other lyrics are: If we dare expose our hearts, just to feel the purest parts, that's when strange sensations start to grow.)

Truth.