The mornings here are pine, spruce, and birch, large swathes of cattails and goldenrod animated by the wind, and caught by the cold. It’s a far different landscape than the sprawling suburbs I’ve come to know, their limited selection of oriental roses, grafted trees, and lush, green lawns. Here, there’s only the sound of the creek. Everything is stilled by the snow that has encased the landscape. At this hour, the ground cracks at the step of my feet. A firm crunch assures myself I won’t be sinking through this otherwise frozen mud. Soft sounds of deer at dawn dispersed by the dog on my leash, barging through the tall grass, clearing the path for both I and her. The scampering does stirs the otherwise still air creating a gentle wind that mixes with their footsteps and brings a fragrance of an earth waking up to a frozen ground, shivering. On our carved out route we enter past the tree line to the forest. I can no longer see the sun once I reach the tall halls of pillared pine. Columns of weeping bark, running even to their limp, scathed and shattered branches, lift the imagination of cathedral ceilings, the ones that every morning I return under for worship.
Around me everything has meaning. The forest, accustom to its own sacredness, persists in such a calmly, casual manner. They sip their coffee slowly in the morning and observe their sunrise meal in silence. Conversations are mostly the same day-to-day (I often opt of offering my greetings until after prayer. The trees oddly engrossed over superficial facets of their world. Getting lost in mundane conversation, in my opinion). I am in a bit of rush this morning after all and haven’t a minute to waste. As I crawl through the thicket and leaf littered walkways, I wonder if the forest regards me as a fly, a bother, or just another rude, little boy. Still, I walk by and down, past their passing judgments and pass where the trail turns into mud and marshes into no longer frozen ground, but a long pool of still, dark water.
I take the Angler Trail to get to the water. The sign directing the way hasn’t been repainted since the day this trail opened; but no matter, I never miss the turn—even with my boots submerged in standing water. Our family practically made this trail, instigated by the deer, and slowly abraded over the years of our own bare feet. The trail is still lined by ferns after all this time. Standing in the cracked, shale rock, they take watch of my feet, faintly reverberating every press I make on the ground. They never ask me questions, never really bother to say hello, and always let visitors pass, mostly because they gave up trying to stop us a long time ago. Just another five minutes and I’m down by the creek. Faint red canes stand by the water, arguably landed there and stuck around. Unless you want to hang around the morning fly fishers, you have to cut through the canes to get to the edge of the creek. Over rock, cane, and occasional rusted out car parts, the creek is running fast.
Growing up, I would come back to this creek every year. Not to say hello, not to let something go, but to let the waters run through me much in the same way my heart recirculates the blood that flows in me—stir, cycle, and rinse. Something powerful about these waters humbles and rejuvenates me. Some days, I walk down to the water in search of meaning and it doesn’t say a word to me, as if to say, “Stop looking. You already know what you need to hear. Just look into my waters and see your reflection. You’ll know. You’ll understand.” The water originally taught the wind. Why the wind now carries thoughts, prayers, curses, or music, derives from the water’s instruction—though I still haven’t’ figured out if the wind continues to mimics the water even now. And maybe it’s incorrect to refer to the water as a mentor or even a listening body. The water is many things. Just as there is meaning all around us, the water wishes to honor that whatever it should share is meaningful.
But today my body ached still from last night’s fever. My body spent most of the darkness tossing in an introuvable sleep, a mind deranged over the inexplicable events in this past month and past year. And when the soul is hungry for meaning, it wanders restlessly. Unlike most nights, my soul didn’t want to leave the house last night.
A soul creates a peculiar heat. People describe having a fire in them when they are impassioned with their work and some describe a restless feeling when they feel stagnant but need to move, in whatever the sense of that word. The heat is peculiar, because that heat is not always felt, yet the body still reacts to it. Last night I felt the heat of my soul even to the point of physical discomfort. It was one of those nights without sleep where every minute feels like an hour; in which case, whatever message it was that my soul wanted to insinuate was coordinated in one of the most agonizing ways.
Sleepless, an unusual set of wrinkles around my eyes, crawling past trees and fallen timbers in a clunky fashion. The creek waters said hello even before I sat by its side. It was listening today. It lent me an ear, and I admittedly opened without reserve as if my own soul was running through me, speaking for me, purging all of my belongings and getting ready to move out. I broke my fever, the one that I carried on from the night, there by the creek. Amidst the creek bed, the rock face, the trees that peer over the sides of the cliff, I broke my fever in a scream that shrilled a violent sound that only the teenage angst in me could replicate, “I DON’T KNOW WHAT I’M DOING WITH MY LIFE!!”
Even the crows became quiet.
If a storm could pass through a city in a matter of seconds, test the rigidity and permanence of whatever stood, and decimate whatever was placed on a fragile foundation, this would be that storm. I felt everything leave me aside from my soul, still sitting in a chair, restless and impatient in a dark corner of my now vacant body. But when my voice cried out over the creek bed, it also asked a question. The rocks called back, and the trees called back, even the water too, all echoing the same sentiments. I never thought I could be affirmed so humanly by such inhuman things, but in that moment I even felt my soul cry out of this whole misunderstanding of life, the constructs both I and my soul have been led onto. I felt betrayed by the world and the Spirit, but simultaneously deeply enlightened.–cut down and humbled. No one around here knows what they should be doing with their life, but that doesn’t mean stopping. That doesn’t mean giving in to self-defeat. The water still flows, the trees still grow, and the rocks continue to believe in the faith that placed them there. And I placed my hands over one another and felt them so gentle. I smiled because I realized how much a worried child I still am, how spoiled I am, how fortunate I am, and still somehow denying everything that’s been and will be laid out for me. In truth, I got caught up in my quest for calling.
The calling I followed was a construct I built with the pieces of thought people gave me, but I believed what I had built and maintained it with blind faith; at least, until I was led me here to this creek. There the waters taught me such an important lesson. Callings don’t come to us like rain shedding grace over our gardens. Some people say you need to figure it out, as if looking a little will help you find your way to that untrodden path. But that’s where I went wrong, or maybe that’s where I went right. Most people perceive callings the same way they would recognize a higher entity: always searching for it but in the process never finding it, becoming disgruntled, and submitting to resignation. I’ve come to think of callings as merely instructions: written down at some point in our life for us to follow them.
I can’t say I went wrong in searching for it, but I do realize I wasn’t listening for it. Even during a period of deep, painfully deep introspection, doubt, worry, and anxiety are a cloudy forecast. How many times did I ask myself then, which way is north? Where is the sun? When everything is gray it’s hard to navigate the world, such it is both in the figurative and literal facets of our lives.
In hindsight, I did go wrong somewhere. At one point I found a sense of direction and went for it with all my fire and energy only to be interfered by the slow hindrance of headwinds, family drama, ad self-guilt. I thought that once I’d find my path, the wind would be to my back and the world would change its down direction to deliver me speedily at once, at last, to my destination. But the wind blows in all directions and the weather spans a range of episodes, just as it is during our life. Just because someone may follow their calling doesn’t mean it’s any easier than if they were to make any other choice. Though, I think that when the soul is inspired it stops at nothing to accomplish its works.
The earth, filled with a confident spirit, continues to function here at South Creek. The waters are still filled with water critters, the rocks still believe being bedding to all earth’s creation, and the wind comes when it is called. But somewhere out there, the water is not running, because the spirit of the water became discouraged. The rocks have become lifeless of holding up the dead, and the wind only comes to clean up all that has dried up. The water originally taught the wind. And even in my own body and soul, as I sit here by the water, blood circulating at the same flow as the creek, my mind is still uncertain, my body still believes in its purpose: the blood continues to flow; and my soul continues to believe in its purpose: love flows through my heart like electricity through a filament, illuminating radiance. My mind can be quelled, both by the uncertainty of the world and even by assurance of my soul and body. In many ways, I do not let it rule my life because my mind, like a dam, blocks the running waters of my body and soul. Without the water running, recirculating through and from all life, then life ceases, seizes up. I’m thankful for this water, when my mind is liberated or imprisoned, it is the water that feeds that manic poet in my mind.