There is an ancient art of walking called meandering. And I think it’s becoming lost, as most of us fall into being in a big hurry these days — even when we shuffle along a trail in our wonderful piece of the country here in the Alleghenies.

We want to get exercise, move briskly. That’s commendable, of course. It’s much better than being a couch potato.

But my years have now informed me that maybe there’s something missing in this, something that is begged of us in our relationship to natural creation. And that is once in a while to slow down and pay attention to it. There are treasures to be experienced.

I have a route I walk, almost daily, from Canal Place to a point along the tow path where I sit for a while in a grassy spot. Not so much to rest, I think, but just to be there. En route, I have taken to purposefully going at a lazy gait. I notice lot more this way

When I first amble on to the tow path, I clap my eyes on swallows. They dart and wheel along the river raking their mouths through what must be hoards of invisible insects. It is a heart-stopping winged ballet of feasting, seemingly choreographed to some music chanted by the sleepless winds that abound along this wide open section of the trail.

I begin to hear some isolated bird calls. As the vegetation thickens and small thorny black locust trees start to appear, the calling becomes more frequent and insistent. Birds hiding in the brush along the trail suddenly bullet up and away as I approach and light on distant branches. I can only imagine the number of nests that this habitat must hold.

I spot animal scat carefully dropped in a long line on one side of the trail. It is filled with seeds, revealing this creature’s summer diet. I wonder what the rhyme and reason for these deposits might be. Maybe to mark territory. Maybe just a good place to go to the bathroom. Who knows? It is rife with mystery.

In places, the trailside long grass is pushed aside, sometimes laid flat. I can only guess at what hairy nonhumans padded through and what their destination was.

I recall some lonely, straggling weeds that caught my eye. They pushed up from the bare baking shaley ground without the incentives of mulch, pesticides, fertilizer, or conscious regular watering.

First there were just a few, and as I paced along, a dense explosion of colors and myriads of different species emerged. A dissident, throbbing fury that filled my sense of longing for aliveness in an earth that we are day by day killing.

And so on it goes, one small epiphany after another. It’s endless, if you allow your mind to attune and receive the fecund natural blessings that are really only the ordinariness of life along the trail.

In truth, I believe these kinds of perceptions that occur to us as we gently move through, done often enough, foster a precious, ever thickening thread of connectedness to the wild and instill in us an abiding desire to take care of it

In the end, it is this heart knowledge, gained as we just ramble, and not all the scientific certainty research can offer up — the head knowledge — that will move we humans to align ourselves with the crucial task of caring for creation.

So take your children meandering. Set their hearts afire. The fate of the world may depend on it.

Jack Slocomb


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