Around the Medicine Wheel with Jim Frank

—Don’t we all want a map with a big arrow that says, “You are here!”

A morning walk

Before the Eastern sky has warmed with even the slightest hint of a new day, I go to the woods to walk.  In the heaviness of the dark I feel a comfort, a being held, swaddled in the weight of the cold and damp air along the noisy creek.  The early winter wind has blown the path clear of the crunchy leaves and my feet are close to silent, just the whishing of the grass making way as I step out with purpose.  I am alone this morning, my walking companion has called out sick, allowing me to dip deeper into this silence as the path rises and carries me away from soft cover of the water sounds.

I hear a new sound, it’s an owl—hoot, hoot hoot hoot.  I stand still to hear it again and just when I am about to give up, when my weight is shifting to take a step, it calls again.  I recognize that call; it is a great horned owl. From across the stream and highway, it calls from the woods on the other side of the valley, at least a quarter mile away.  In the winter of 2000 there was a nesting pair of great horned owls in the wetlands woods near my home.  Their call could be heard at night but even better, each evening at dusk they could be seen flying out on their breakfast hunt. The great horned owl is a very large bird, and it flies as if it is pulling itself through the sky rather than the more graceful soaring of a hawk.  They are like a swimmer doing the butterfly stroke; there is beauty and grace but the raw power of each stroke is what impresses.  And at dusk each evening I could watch them fly from across the sky above my yard.  For the ten seconds it took for them to go from west to east, I would be transfixed by a beauty that reached deep into a place close to the center of my soul. This is a memory now and full of the errors that memories allow but I think there must have been some special warning in having the owls be so present then because that coming year contained so many dark moments, personal as well collective.  The death of two close friends, nine-eleven and another divorce came together to inflict wounds that have taken years to scar over with what I suspect is still an incomplete healing, and as I resume my walk I feel I am still walking in the echoes of that time.

Then the path turns up the hill, the woods open into meadow and now the sound of the grass is only challenged by the sound of my own heavy breath.  Ahh, the blessing of hard work releases my mind from memory as I exert myself by maintaining the same pace up the hill that had carried me along the path by the mill run.  My body has warmed now and I open my jacket.   When I reach the level ground again I pause to catch my breath.  The sky has lightened now, just a bit, and my gaze is attracted to shadows in the field of unmowed grass.  I stand still, uncertain, is it a deer I see standing twenty feet away.  I wait to see who will move first, me or the deer.  But the light shifts first and I see that I have fallen for an illusion, it is merely a shadow, there was no deer at all.

But fifteen minutes later I find them.  Now the darkness has given way to the dawning and in this light I make no mistake. In another meadow, into other woods, I follow a retreating herd of a dozen or so deer, their white tails waving me on, or waving good-bye.  I don’t know which.   My trail crosses their route into the woods and I smell the wonderful musky odor they left behind two minutes ago.  It is a circus animal smell, it is a dog smell, it is a farmyard smell, and it is stopping the car just short of a jay-walking buck on the ride home from my mother’s funeral.  One moment I am completely in the present, allowing my wild animal senses to dominate my experience. The next moment my memory has me in my car ten years ago, then on the midway fifty years before.  The deer have entered the woods on their tiny deer-paths which are much too confining for me so I stick to the trail which circles around them to where we cross paths again.  They hold their ground this time, I am downhill from them, up wind from them,  and through the trees they stand silhouetted against the even brighter sky.  Their ears are perked in full attention as they watch my progress.  Almost passed them I call up to them.  I wish them a good morning and tell them of my plan, my intention to work my way back to the trail along the mill run and back to the car.  It seems to me that they are mostly interested in avoiding me so perhaps they will understand that I am not really following them.  They are like those memories on this walking meditation.  I have crossed paths with my past but I have not followed there this morning.  In this moment, this life is good.

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3 Responses to “A morning walk”

  1. Hollis says:

    Lovely writing! Succinct, evocative language weaving realities. Good on ya!

  2. Andrea Q. says:

    Beautiful, Jim! What a great reminder of the importance of presence, too. Thank you!

  3. Michael says:

    Very nice, Jim! Sometimes I find hard work (ie. difficult hike) can not only release my mind from memory, but induce my mind into deeper, more reflective meditation.