Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Hiking as Church

walking the Coogan Farm
I've slowly come to realize that for me the most important spiritual practice of all is to walk in nature. 

I can live fine without congregations and rituals and deep spiritual contemplations, but if I don't take myself away from the clangor of humans and their internal combustion engines - I wither spiritually. 

After our banquet of California hiking this summer, I resolved to let no week pass without getting out into the woods, and I've been mostly successful at it.

On Tuesday I tagged along with the Nature Center staff.  They were learning the new trails being blazed on a 45-acre tract of land they had acquired (at great effort and expense) to expand the Center's reach nearly all the way to the Mystic river.  

Stillman mansion
It's hardly pristine wilderness, and the land bears plenty of evidence of 370 years of use by the Europeans, (and less evidence of the thousands of years Native Americans lived along the river and its estuary).

Today much of it is forest - though there was no forest here during most of Mystic's heyday of sea-faring and ship-building.  More recent pastures and orchards are being reclaimed by shrubs and vines and young trees.  

Some of the encroaching vegetation are natives like greenbriar, winterberry, blackberry, and sweet pepperbush.  Other invaders, like autumn olive, phragmites, asian bittersweet and honeysuckle, have hitchhiked with us from other countries and continents.
greenbriar berries are winter forage for the birds

There are quarries and stone walls, old wells and foundations, and even the brick and stone cellar of a 49-room mansion that was never finished - only ever roofed by ash and willow boughs.

We stripped an apple tree of all the tart-sweet fruit we could reach - like the ranging troop of primates we were.

The whole place is a rich and far-reaching conversation between humans and nature.  

And that is nourishing food for the mind and soul.

pokeweed, burned by frost