Let the beauty we love
Be what we do
There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the Earth.”
Introductory note: At the end of 2016, my parents purchased a piece of land about one mile from where I already
live (they live one mile further away than that). In addition to woodland and meadow, this land has two springs, three creeks, a cave, and ¼ mile of river access. While I have been deeply connected to the land of my birth, the Missouri Ozarks, for a long time, this new-to-us land has offered a new opportunity: the chance to get to know another section of land “from scratch,” deeply, wildly and well, and to become wise stewards of it for the time in which it is in our care. It is also the first time I have been able to so closely and intimately observe the origin source of a body of water. Previously not giving it much thought, I now have the daily privilege of observing the source of the flow as I watch water emerge directly from the ground. First, there is simply none and then, suddenly, a deep blue pool constantly bubbling as water rises to the surface and flows away on its long, long journey to the sea. This essay is a series of three vignettes as I spend this year immersing myself in relationship with this land.
We walk along the nearly vertical hillside hanging onto small trees for support. Finally, though we almost miss it, we spy the opening to the cave nestled behind several mossy stones. The sun is still on the rise above the tree line and the rays filter through the trees so one ray is pointing directly at the cave entrance. We crawl inside, bumping our heads and scraping our backs as we wiggle into this womb in the earth. Once inside, the chamber enlarges so we can stand up. Unlike other caves we have experienced in this area, the only human signs we find are a single bottle cap, a glass bottle, and two sets of initials carved into a rock. In the dark silence we hear the sound of water dripping steadily. I make my way further into the cave, acutely aware that this is living cave and being careful not to step on the fresh, wet, cervix-shaped beginnings of new stalagmites on the floor. At the back of the cave, I find her. A Madonna-like stone column, glistening with water. In the silence of the cave, I quietly sing Ancient Mother to her, as tears well in my own eyes.
I am of this earth
for this earth
and by this earth.
We skirt carefully along the bank of the creek, making our way to the largest spring. Over three million gallons of water a day flow effortlessly from this small, deep pool nestled quietly in the middle of the woods. I am stunned by the magnitude of this flow as I stand there with my husband, my head resting on his shoulder, hawks wheeling overhead, redbud trees in full bloom. It has never seemed more clear to me how very “small” we are, but a blink of an eye to this spring and its countless years and countless gallons of water, not caring whether it is witnessed in its work or not, but simply, continually, creating and producing. I try to explain this feeling aloud, but words fail me. It is a humbling sensation, not a depressing one. The actual emergence of the water at this origin point of the river is nearly invisible, the continuous gentle, small popping of bubbles on its surface, the only sign that something significant is happening here that distinguishes this body of water from a pond or pool. Yet, those never-ending bubbles rapidly expand to a wide, swift-moving creek, which joins the river and another smaller spring-fed creek to continue to make their way southward across the state. We smell something sharp and see a dead armadillo by the roots of a giant sycamore. We hear a shrill cry and look up to see two bald eagles riding the currents of air high above us. We are so small. So many thousands of years of water have passed, but we are here right now.
I am just a blink of an eye
But I can sit, and watch, and wonder.
We scramble along the uneven terrain on the rocky and wooded hillside, slipping, laughing, and looking. I am exhilarated by the simple thrill of exploring the world right here in front of me. We find tiny flowers. I kneel by the roots of fallen trees. We stop to admire moss on stones. We find gigantic black snake napping in the sun. A complete turtle shell. A shed antler. Each moment feels like a new opportunity to “kiss the earth.” I sing Reclaiming’s song-version of the Rumi quote over and over and as I kneel in each spot to see what it has to show me, in each, I kiss my fingers and press them to the earth. I see all the kissing going on around me…the sun filtering through branches, the fiddlehead ferns kneeling to kiss the earth, the roots wound through rocks, the trillium and bloodroot blooms pushing up between leaves, the water seeping out of the ground and flowing down the hill, the dogwood blossoms opening to the sun, the moss covering stones, the fallen trees stretched along the slope.
“And that is just the point…how the world, moist and beautiful, calls to each of us to make a new and serious response. That’s the big question, the one the world throws at you every morning. ‘Here you are, alive. Would you like to make a comment?’” ~ Mary Oliver
We emerge from our walk to find morels growing alongside the path (morels are wild, edible mushrooms found for
about two weeks in Missouri each spring and considered a delicacy by many). The afternoon suddenly becomes even more rewarding and we stoop and peer through fallen oak, sycamore, and elm leaves looking for the telltale conical form of these forest treats. We quickly discover that we must tune in and “listen” for the mushrooms, so to speak, or we’ll walk right by them, none the wiser. The moment I start thinking about anything else, I stop finding any. Once I settle into my body and the moment and really look at the world again, there another morel will be.
“I think this is how we’re supposed to be in the world … present and in awe.”
–Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life