I’m walking north on Enright in the late afternoon. I see two big red oak trees shimmering in the breeze a few hundred yards ahead, soaking up the sunlight from the west. I have watched their lush green all summer and now the leaves are bronze. The aliveness of the shimmering trees seems to reach out to me. I pause and vividly imagine their breathing in concert with mine, and with the breathing of countless animals, plants and people. I can also sense the trees absorbing the sun’s energy, and their roots drawing up water and nutrients.
I believe all plants, animals, microbes, natural communities, the Earth itself, our solar system and beyond are actively, with their own kind of intelligence, ordering and maintaining themselves through cycles of growth and decline. They eventually dissolve, their parts scattering and gathering again in new forms. So just as with fellow humans, we can imaginatively enter into these non-human lives. This is empathy which early humans learned to enable their survival as hunters, gatherers and fishers…as well as to feed their sense of wonder and mystery.
But these days, to avoid losing this ancient skill, I have to regularly get out of my house and out of my shell, opening myself to the world, often stopping and just gawking for a while. When I move through the landscape in this way I’m not looking for the physical exercise I get from my brisk walking. This kind of alert walking not only helps me tend the gardens, yard, and woods well, but seems vital to living joyfully in communion with the family of life here on the ridge and beyond. -Bill Cahalan