Once in a while I have to escape my familiar walls at home, even my cat, to get close to the wider, wilder world. When I do that, I am entranced by the small things: beach rocks and the tiny crab who flee when I turn them over, lichen, white, black and tan, tree bark, and nurse logs from which all growing things arise. What is it that compels us to pick up a small enough, well-enough shaped beach rock, and spin it into the waves? Why do we sit on the gravel and comb through the multiform stones for one that’s distinct? The one we take home with us?
The well-placed pebble tossed into a small pool distinguishes itself by the ribbons of ripples that spread in all directions at once, expanding until they reach banks even I cannot reach. I like to study things small and close to examine exactly what/who they are. As Thoreau observed, Nature will bear the closest inspection. She invites us to lay our eye level with her smallest leaf, and take an insect view of its plain. For example, a tiny white mushroom leaning out of a gaggle of bright green moss growing on the side of a tree.
And then what? Is the observation enough? Sometimes. I know when, when I feel in awe at all our neighbors on the planet. And yes, I count moss, lichen, mushrooms, stones, and pebbled beaches where tiny crab hide. Awe is my response to the world. Especially when I have a chance to explore it firsthand.
I was struck by this cairn of remembrance, or thanksgiving, at the top of the Trollstigen Mountain road in Norway, well-known for its steep pitch and 11 hairpin turns. There was not just this one. There were perhaps, a hundred. Carefully placed to mark someone’s safe passage, or the hope that the return to sea level would be safe as well. I have a friend who builds a cairn in the many places she has hiked to remember her mother, who recently left the planet. She calls her into presence as she stops to envision her standing on the spot with her. Thanksgiving. Presence.
Present! We say, when our name is called. On All Souls Sunday we heard the names of those who had died this past year, and then said aloud with emphasis, Present! for each one. There are more things in our world than we can possibly see firsthand, and even researchers, when they concentrate on one phylum, genus or species, find they cannot come to the end of their exploring. Just as the stars we can see spread out into the distance and the distant past, we can never come to the original seed. You may not agree. But these depths are beyond my ken.
Similarly, turning over stones is one way to go in deep to the core of things, to their spirit, their place, their nature, though we cannot name it or understand it. Spirituality is like that. It is what is not seen. Often not glimpsed. But even when not glimpsed, it might be felt, sensed somehow. The awe we feel in the presence of the ocean surf, the forest pond, the tiny acorn, the Magnolia seed pod, is what I feel when I sense a Presence when it is not present. Yet it is. It definitely is. And I live in search of it every day.