(This is the 8th from my collection of essays. To read the other 7 go here, here here and here and here and here and here Or click under Topics, Walking in nature)
Jilly and I were walking through the woods enjoying the sweet sunshine and light breeze. She was sniffing here and there. I was watching the leaves shift and shimmer. Meandering along familiar path, we were forced to stop, our route blocked by a large clump of fallen birch branches.
Last week, the path was open and Jilly and I went our merry way. This week, the path was blocked and Jilly and I could not go down the path to the big tree I call, Father Birch.
I felt disappointed. I don’t like not being able to go the way I want. I considered how much time and strength it would take to clear away the branches, then I had a better idea.
I remembered a path up the hill to my left, further ahead, that wound back into the woods by Father Birch. Jilly and I turned and went that way. Leaning my tired and tense left shoulder against Father Birches huge, multi branching trunk, I breathed in the fresh summer air and listened. Here’s what I heard Father Birch say to me.
“You are strong. You don’t have to tense your shoulder, arm or wrist to protect yourself. It’s strong enough, so are you. Trust it.”
Tears welled up in my eyes as I took in the wise words. I wasn’t protecting myself from future injury. I was holding onto my old injury, weakness and pain that came when I broke my wrist 7 years ago. I am healed. I am strong. And it’s time now, to let go of that old wound and trust my healed bones and muscles.
I walked up the slope and along the winding path from Father Birch to visit the other, smaller birch near the water I call, Mother Birch. We stopped. Blocked. Again.
This time, it was a pile of bare branches long and short, thin and thick from a variety of bushes and trees. There was no other way to get to Mother Birch, because these branches were piled directly in front of her. Again, I felt disappointed. But this time, I was mad. I looked down at the pile in front of me and made a decision.
I asked Jilly to stay and reached down to the first branch in front of me, picked it up and threw it into the brush beside the path. One by one, I lifted each branch, big and small, and placed it beside the path to my right. I slid the bigger branches down the slope to my left. The last branch, the biggest, had to be lifted up and over my head, around the tree and pushed down the slope and finally came to rest next to a large fern. I looked up at Mother Birch, down at the ground newly cleared in front of Jilly and me.
I walked forward, reached out and patted Mother Birch. Then turned and leaned in. I felt her kind, strong warmth supporting my back. I sighed and listened.
Mother Birch said, “Yes. He’s right about your strength, of course. But there’s another thing you need to know. You don’t always need to use it. But, then, you just proved that, didn’t you?”
I wasn’t sure I’d proved anything. I’d just taken a different path to Father Birch and cleared some old branches in front of her. What did that have to do with being strong?
She said, “Knowing that you are strong, believing in your own strength gives you more choices. You know you don’t need to run and hide. And you know that you can fight, but you can choose not to. You can choose another path, or you can clear the path. It’s up to you.”
Suddenly, I saw what the wood was teaching me today.
First, the path to Father Birch was blocked. It was big. I felt it would take a long time for me to clear it on my own. Then, I realized that I didn’t have to clear it. I could take another path and still get where I wanted to go. By going around.
The other path to Mother Birch was blocked, too. It was a pretty big pile of branches. I’d heard Father Birch’s words to trust my strength. I did. I decided to clear the path so I could get where I wanted to go. By going through.
Life’s journey takes us down many paths. Some are hard. Some are easy. Some are open. Some are blocked. When faced with the blocked paths, now, I realize I can believe in my own strength. Trust it. And with that strength and trust, I can make a choice.