I am engaging in the process of walking myself into this land. Feet pounding the tracks, eyes and ears open. Every inch of this old, old country sings of story, and I am walking the mythlines. The stories of rocks, and streams, and trees; the stories of fox, and badger, and hare; the stories of heron, and crow, and sparrowhawk…
And as I walk, my own stories begin to take shape and merge with stories past.
— Sharon Blackie
from If Women Rose Rooted: A Journey to Authenticity and Belonging
walking myself into the land…
I stood alone in the forest, trying to steady my breath which was jagged with suppressed tears. In my shaking hands were two gifts: a tiny bundle of sage and a feather smudge fan, both made by a descendant of the Cherokee who once lived and thrived on this land.
It was the day before closing. I was there to pray.
The riot of under-story growth had died back, and I could clearly see the landscape’s contours through the trees. I lit the sage and walked, my hands slowly steadying as I sang. My prayers mingled with the sage’s smoke and rose into the late autumn air. Dry, brown leaves still clinging to the copper beeches rattled in the breeze, lending their rhythm to my singing, drums sleeping in their hearts.
I let my feet find their own path, weaving this way and that. My head buzzed with the energy of the place, and I called on the spirits of Grouse and Coyote, of Mouse and Turkey, of Rabbit and Snake. I called on the spirit of Bear. I would dance here and laugh, gather abundance to myself and give it away. I knew I would struggle with fear and transmute it into something beautiful. And I would need protection, strength, and the inner stillness necessary to integrate all of it into a life well-lived.
I walked the edges of the hollow, where crowsfoot twines its way along the ground, forming almost a perfect circle. A sacred circle. A circle on whose edge I would meditate and pray, opening into myself. The scream of a hunting hawk rang out above me, a reminder to see broadly as well as deeply. I paused, eyes closed in thanks, letting the light filtering through the bare branches of gentle maples and sweet poplars fall on my face for a moment before walking on.
I walked the top of the ridge, where the shy hawthorn — the Heart Medicine Tree — plays hide-and-seek with me. I walked the dying hemlock grove, where seedlings defiantly dot the ground, carrying the promise of a season of renewal and healing. I walked beneath the wise, towering pines, breathing deeply the cleansing scent of their needles, carrying their peace with me as I passed.
I walked over the tangled, dried stems of field vegetation — medicine and food plants — to where a tiny rivulet of a stream murmurs stories from the distant spring that feeds it. Here I paused again, allowing grief to flood me as the Cherokee myth of Red Dog intertwined with the memory of my own red dog, Bodhi, whose loss shattered my soul, nearly causing me to turn my back on this land in my despair.
As the sage’s burning consumed the bundle, I moved on, cresting the tractor road’s embankment and heading back into the shadowed woods.
Finally, I stopped, leaning against a tall pine, my hand pressed firmly against its broad, rough-barked trunk. The birds had fallen silent. Even the beeches had stilled their rustling.
Will you accept me? I whispered through tears, as I had the previous summer, when I first found this beautiful piece of mountain land. Will you help me heal?
As the smoldering sage faltered, then snuffed itself, I also asked myself: And what can I — broken and soul-sick and weary — offer this land in return?
A crow’s voice broke the silence of the pines, lovely and harsh at once, the sound of becoming. A joining of past and present, of memory and (perhaps) hope.
For Charlie Smith, in gratitude. The land of your People — and Joyous Gard — will always welcome you gladly.