Sit Spots

Day 141

photo by Michelle Johnsen

photo by Michelle Johnsen

It was the bones that brought me there.

To the small water catchment pond,

at the edge of the park,

next to the roadway,

near the metal bridge.

It was man-made,

earth scooped by machines to make a ditch.

I followed the line of Sycamores,

with their bleached-bark camouflage.

The skeleton lay still in the morning air,

half-buried in grass

and mud.

All there, except the skull.

The cage of ribs,

long limbs

with dark hooves at the end.

Deer.

Bones were still unfamiliar to me, strange,

and frightening,

secret things,

exposed to the light,

never meant to be seen.

I knelt and looked around.

Willows, Crack, near the water’s edge,

the Sycamores of course,

Box Elders, twisted and leaning,

a line of small Ash trees,

Purple Loosestrife,

Nettles,

Creeping Jenny,

Multiflora Rose.

Strangers to me then.

All I saw was worlds of green,

and blurred colors on beating wings.

Nameless.

The Sparrows, Chickadees, Goldfinches, Warblers, Cedar Waxwings,

and Wood Ducks

looked all the same to me.

Unfamiliar.

Yet,

somehow I knew it was home.

Recognized,

the small spot on the Earth

that would help me remember.

It was the bones that brought me there.

Thank you for listening,

Love,

Natasha

photo by Michelle Johnsen

photo by Michelle Johnsen

Our guest post tonight is from Zach. A fellow writer and rewilder, you can read about his adventures on his blog, Becoming the Native.

http://www.becomingthenative.com/

I asked him if I could re-post this piece here on . It’s a beautiful account of some of his experiences and observations at his own sit spot, a place that is clearly dear to him. When we share our stories, we can all learn from them. And that’s a gift. And that’s a revolution. Thank you Zach!

Meditating on sit-spot meditation

By Zach Elfers

Since October I have been practicing daily sit-spot meditation (well, almost daily). I have found it to be deeply powerful and especially beautiful and peaceful. As the days go by, and the seasons circle, in a profound yet subtle way one develops intimations of the grander patterns of nature and her cycles.

It’s winter now in early February. And what a long winter it has been! — and it’s not over yet. We had our first snowfall on December 8th, about a few inches. At the time of writing, the ground is still blanketed in one to four inches of snow, though the thaws and freezes have resulted in an icy crust.

My sit-spot is on top of a boulder along the banks of the east side of White Clay Creek in Delaware. The rock butts against a beech tree, which just the other day I noticed has a leaf-wrapped luna moth chrysalis dangling from a branch above my eyes. I hope to witness the moth’s emergence in the spring.

From my rock, I watch over a serene section of the creek as it winds its way downstream from a bend to the north. The eddies that ripple on the surface leave impressions of the contours of the riverbed below the current. I see too to the west the farther bank. Beyond, the white skeletal canopies of winter sycamores frame in overlay a few white pine looming in the background, painting an abstract landscape through natural juxtaposition.

The forest composition is predominately oak-hickory, with red, black, white, scarlet, and chestnut oak alongside bitternut and mockernut hickory. Tulip poplar, Delaware’s state tree, is also strongly represented, and red maple are to be found, remnants of the early forest successional phase. From my little window onto the world at this rock I also see sweetgum, black cherry, hornbeam, and shrubby things like the evergreen rhododendrons and the wintry leafless stems of spicebush. Black walnut can also be found nearby. To the west facing away from the water, steep hills arise upward to the horizon. There are two houses on these hills, but I never catch a sign or a hint of any human activity. They are presumably empty, or they must be the gravesites of the living.

This time of year there is not much happening in the forest herbaceous layer. Aside from the evergreen ferns like christmas fern, and the lichens and mosses, there are to be found the basal leaves of white avens, and what I believe to be the dead remains of shiso (beefsteak plant), or wood nettle. Raspberry canes, multiflora rose, and other brambles trail over the ground, devoid of leaves. (December and January were very good months to eat the delicious craisin-tasting vitamin-C packing hips of Rosa multiflora!)

To get to the sit-spot I cross a small stream below the welcoming boughs of a beech that I know has been well-cherished and long-lived. It features carvings and etchings in the bark, a plank-and-nail ladder, and Benzoin Brackets eating away at the isolated decay of one of the lower limbs. Once I cross over that little stream, I begin to tread on hallowed ground. If the weather is warm enough I’ll take my shoes off. Otherwise, I foxwalk in my boots the extra hundred-or-so yards I need to go to reach my rock.

The Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore once said, “Love is the ultimate truth that lies at the heart of creation.” I ponder these words in days past on my way to the sit-spot. The sit-spot has become a daily ritual, and it is something that I love doing. Because I love it, it grows and flows as a source of creativity, nourished by the love and dedication I feed the ritual with. There is something wonderful about dedicating yourself to daily ritual in such a way. It is hopeful. Fresh, invigorating. I always look forward to my sit-spot time — it is like home. I always go for at least fifteen or twenty minutes, but frequently find myself staying for an hour, or even more, provided there is daylight still and I have no other obligations.

When I first began I focused intently on expanding all of my physical senses — sight, sound, smell, touch, and even taste, so that I could observe more faithfully. And of course I still focus on expanding the senses, but my awareness has expanded in several other further directions. The thing about nature observation is that the more you interact with the world, the more it changes. Thus, sit-spot focuses on stillness and mental calm, “actionless-ness”, allowing one to exist in the forest in a state of minimal impact, experiencing the woods at its baseline state, much like things would be if you were not actually present.

It has been a pleasure getting acquainted with the other animal beings that make this place home. Since doing sit-spot, I have been introduced to the joys of bird-watching. A pileated woodpecker makes his territory very near my sit-spot, so his presence and bustling activity is something I can expect most days. I also see northern flicker, downy woodpecker, and red-bellied woodpecker. I think I can almost distinguish these species now without vision, going solely by the pitch of their pecking. But not quite, yet.

Other birds I have become familiar with are the blue jays, which though now rather silent, sounded their alarm calls more frequently in the fall. Also carolina chickadee and their tree hollow homes, tufted titmouse, robin, white-breasted nuthatch, brown creeper, mockingbird, golden-crowned kinglet, cardinal, eastern towhee, carolina wren, starlings, dark-eyed junco, crow, and the white-throated sparrows with their distinctive whistling. All these and more are residents of this place, much like myself. In this we all share a common bond. I have also seen bald eagle, red-tailed hawk, a merlin falcon, and can hear from time-to-time in the afternoons the far off hoot-hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo of barred owl.

Sometimes a great blue heron will wade silently along the shore, or stand motionless and head-tucked for what seems like hours. Even in flight the heron is silent, a master of stillness and calm. They are sagely birds.

A stark contrast is the pileated woodpecker, who seems to flip out in nervous fits occasionally for no particular reason that is discernible to me.

Other wildlife encountered include fox, squirrel (plus all their banter), Canada goose, and mallard duck, featuring in particular an apparently 5-year-old large Mallard/Domestic duck hybrid individual with a black head and white breast instead of the usual green/chestnut mallard color palette. I have also seen snow geese fly overhead, and I know rabbits are present because I have seen their tracks. And I have made no mention yet of the many white-tailed deer that run along these woodland corridors.

In recent weeks I’ve had a handful of intimate encounters with the beaver family that lives along my stretch of river. I have known about the presence of the beaver since I began doing sit-spot in October. Being primarily nocturnal creatures, and strongly territorial, if beaver live nearby, you can count on seeing them swimming at dusk. But last week, the temperatures had been low for several days, causing the creek to freeze over six or seven inches. As I arrived to my spot, I noticed holes chewed in the ice beneath gnawed masses of gnarly roots along the bank where the beaver had their burrows. This presented an opportunity to watch the beaver emerge from their home. Walking onto the ice and creeping carefully, I squatted down like a rock two arms-lengths away from the hole. Sure enough, the beaver comes out of the hole. He doesn’t seem to notice me. It is now twilit dusk, but I can make out his paws, whiskers, and leathery tail, and I watch in awed silence.

The very next day I went for a run down my trail. As I approach my sit-spot rock, I notice directly on my right beside the trail two beaver chewing cambium in broad daylight. I stop, stare. I could clearly see the beavers’ red teeth, claws, fur, and tail. Again, they take little notice. One spots me and scrambles back into the water. The other one looks in my direction, but doesn’t see me. He flares his nostrils with a look of confusion, smelling something unusual, but seeing nothing out of the ordinary. They must have poor eyesight. I must assume these two beaver are a breeding pair, as beaver are fiercely territorial between families. Though I can’t tell which is which — beaver have no external sexual dimorphism. They grow to the same size and look exactly the same, regardless of sex.

I have also tried watching deer in a similar manner. One day I encountered a young buck — he may have been a two-pointer, I don’t quite remember. I froze mid-foxwalk and as he turned his head I would squat down lower and lower. He approached to within four yards before he would look straight at me with a look of nervous panic. He didn’t immediately run away. It would take him several moments before he decided my presence was a threat. Still, if I had been a hunter those moments would have come far too late.

Another day I saw three small, young deer in their first year of life approach in my direction. Again, I squat down and draw inward my presence as they trot in my direction. They notice me, but can’t figure out what the heck I am. I watch in silent amusement as one of the young ones stamps his front legs in a deliberate rhythmic parade in an attempt to provoke my reaction. I am unmoved. Eventually, the three young ones deem whatever it is I am to be harmless, and they gather up the courage to keep on walking past. And so they go.

I think of what it means to be wild, and how wildness contrasts to domestication. Contrary to what may be the common sense intuition, I come to understand wildness more and more as close kin to discipline. A Hobbesian or other mechanistic scientist would look at the cyclical ways of nature and the undeviating routines of animals as indicators of automaticity, otherwise called unreflective instinct. I see things differently now. These animals and other wild beings, are characterized by tremendous discipline — not to mention the tremendous awareness — and it is this discipline which manifests like unthinking routine to those who don’t stop to consider and think about their routine.

By contrast, domesticated animals are a psychological wreak. We — yes, I include us humans — have lost our wildness, and with it, much of our discipline. And now here we sit in our homes, overcome with boredom, nervous energy, alienation, and ennui. But I believe that through disciplines such as sit-spot, we can not only reconnect our lives with nature — her patterns, colors, senses, and fellow beings — but in doing so we intuitively reaquaint ourselves with the natural discipline instilled by the wild, or what the Iroquois called the “Original Instructions”:

“The original instructions direct that we who walk about on the Earth are to express a great respect, an affection, and a gratitude toward all the spirits which create and support Life. We give a greeting and thanksgiving to the many supporters of our own lives-the corn, beans, squash, the winds, the sun. When people cease to respect and express gratitude for these many things, then all life will be destroyed, and human life on this planet will come to an end….”

I think too about life and all its forms. I see so much of it from my tiny little sit-spot, a point location in the woods just outside town. And there’s so much more here that I sense but cannot identify nor understand. Imagine all the rest that is missed! And to cherish it all anyway, coming to know it and relate to it, even if it is not yet understood or comprehended… this is a worthy and meaningful pursuit.

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One response to “Sit Spots

  1. great post, and great guest post!!!!

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