Hike in the Sespe

Having had some health challenges lately, I haven’t been able to hike much, but recently managed a short walk in the Sespe with Robert and Barry. As usual, I was taken aback by the subtle and fresh beauty of the chaparral, so different from the countryside in my native England. Its grey-greens and golds, the brush, multi-layered rocks, pines (often blackened by fire), lizards and brightly colored birds are exotic to me. Yet again, I was struck by how essential it is to me to be out in nature. How absurd it is of me to think that I am in any way separate.

Yet the illusion of separateness seems increasingly powerful. For many people it has become possible to function purely amongst concrete and tarmac, metal and plastic. Function is an appropriate term for what happens to us in this environment, at best. To thrive, we need to reconnect with nature, not as an idea or as an ideal, but as an experience. And this is possible even with only one tree or sparrow in view.

When I recently had the immense pleasure of hearing Mary Oliver read her work, I was aware of a feeling of longing when she described being out all day by a pond or up all night in the woods, having a full immersion experience of nature. So, as we hiked, I let the others go on ahead, and took the opportunity of sitting by the stream and really allowing myself to experience what was around me as deeply as I could. The experience was magical. Suddenly, I began to notice the precise way the stream tumbled over a sudden drop– the particular shape of the drops of spray, the bubbles and eddies on the surface, the myriad of subtle colors of weed, water and stone. One little finch became a shock of color and movement above me. A lizard and I kept company on an overhanging rock for a while. I realized how I normally just glaze over at times like that- appreciative of my surroundings, yet strangely self-absorbed. This was different, and I was deeply grateful.

This illusion of separateness is also what has can cause us to become arrogant and thoughtless in our treatment of the natural environment. Yet, rather than joining in the anguish and anger generated by apocalyptic argument, I would rather focus on what I love and do my best to support it and be nourished by it.

Appropriately, this weekend was the Ojai Poetry Festival, whose theme was “Poetry and the Voice of the Earth”. As the poets read their work in Libbey Bowl amongst the live oaks, they were accompanied by the sound of hundreds of little frogs… To my mind, creativity flourishes best when we are inspired by and connected to the natural world.

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