When I was in first grade, my mother got a phone call from my teacher. She was concerned because unlike the other children, I didn’t play much during recess. Instead, I would walk the perimeter of the playground against the chain link fence, stopping every few feet to pick up and examine interesting pebbles. What became particularly disturbing was when the other children began to migrate to the edges of the asphalt as well — following me, but also watching where they were stepping through the slips of grasses that grew in the sandy cracks between the sidewalk, looking for treasures.
I grew up in a village that was lush with ponds and woods and trails and spent every day of my childhood exploring all that bounty. When I left my parents house I moved to towns and cities and a great disconnect grew between myself and the natural world. I recall the first few times we visited my ex-husband’s family in Pennsylvania. I was frightened by the old growth forests. The tall trees and hills made me feel claustrophobic. In the wastelands of the midwest, the only things obstructing the view1 were factory silos and telephone poles. I didn’t walk. Well I could have walked, but tracking between the liquor store and the Dairy Queen is a distinctly different kind of spiritual experience. 😉
Since moving to the country2 I have discovered a love of walking. My little dog loves walking too — most attuned to the element of DOG when she’s nosing through the underbrush and rolling in deer poop.
Walking with the kids out here is tedious — though we make an almost-daily pilgrimage to a nearby stable to see and say hello to our neighbor horses (and the noisy donkey). I walk with the dog, by myself, whenever I get the chance though — because we can walk up against the edge of the woods or down long winding country roads until she gives up and sits down3. I find rocks and I take pictures of flowers, mostly. I’ll even admit to a certain level of nerdery when it comes to rocks — especially crystals and fossils. I show them to the kids and we talk about how we think they were made — what kind of creature the fossil was and what kind of story that tells us about the place we live now. My kids smile and nod.
A week or so ago, I had a dream that I was walking in the woods, looked down and picked up an animal bone. The next day, when I was picking the kids up from the sitter, a note on the door said they’d be in the pine grove behind the house. As soon as my feet hit the bed of needles, there it was. I’ve never been a bone collector — always found the whole business a big macabre. But when the Universe throws you a bone… literally, I mean, it seems pertinent to play fetch.
My father collects bones when he takes his dog on walks. And turtle shells. And snake skins. And interesting rocks. The older I get the more I see my parents in the mirror. He used to bring them home and show us. We would smile and nod. I grew up in a natural history exhibit and I never realized it.
The bones though — do they now call to me for curation? On our walk Sunday, my dog and I came upon a sacred tree in a shallow trail not to far from the field behind my house. A natural altar had formed in the well of its exposed roots, made from a butterfly wing, a broken snail shell and a sparrow’s feather. We lingered there while I made my prayers. When I turned away I saw a pearly jawbone (a groundhog maybe?) glinting in the midsummer sun. Later, while pulling some sedums to transplant in my terrariums, my hand fell against the clavicle4 of a deer.
I brought them home, rinsed them of dirt, sang them a ditty and blessed the spirits of these creatures passed with some rainwater I had collected and kept from the garden. Put them in the tray with my rocks and tiny pinecones — the treasures I find walking along the edges5.