I experienced a strange coincidence on the day of the fire at Notre Dame. The air was cool and the sun was bright so I decided to decided to venture into the small patch of woods behind my house. From my gazebo I could see that the mayapples were out and I wanted to take a closer look. I came upon a spot barely twenty meters behind my garden shed and a feeling came over me of entering a sacred space. There was nothing spectacular or particularly notable about this spot, but the spirits of the forest and my God spoke to me in harmony. This harmony may seem odd to most, but it is quite natural among many of Lithuanian descent. We were the last pagans of Europe becoming Christianized only late in the 14th century. Among the peasantry, the old ways held sway much longer. Some of us never fully abandoned the old ways. The forest spirits are as real as the saints and the Holy Trinity.
My minor forest cathedral brought forth this harmony and that gave me great peace. The mayapples were up, but not yet in bloom. The fiddleheads of the Christmas ferns were rising from the fallen fronds of last year, how appropriate for both Spring and Easter. The forest floor was carpeted with a small white flower which I have not yet identified. The small flowers were accented by subtle and beautiful rose colored lines. I meditated upon their beauty. The taller trees have only just started to leaf out allowing the perfect sunlight to bathe the forest floor. Such beauty and tranquility. Feeling rejuvenated, I returned home.
A few hours later I watched the news of the fire at Notre Dame. I experience the same shock and feeling of loss as most, although certainly not to the same extent as many. I thought back to my lone visit to that cathedral back in 1982. As I climbed the spiral stone steps to the bell tower I remember feeling like Quasimodo. I was impressed by such an ancient and sacred place. Even then I thought back to an ancient and sacred place of my youth. There was a massive boulder, a glacial erratic, deposited on the crest of a ridge by the last retreating glacier very close to my Connecticut home. I would often make the pilgrimage to this boulder, climb to the top and contemplate its frozen journey from far to the north. I felt the same miraculous sense of awe meditating in that sacred place as I did serving mass with Father O’Dea as he consecrated the Host. Somehow I reconciled this duality of faith. I still do.
I have had the same or similar feeling in the forests of Upstate NY. My middle sister, the devout one, once jokingly called me a druid.
But when flying over the Finger Lakes, the hair on my arms and back of the neck stand up straight. Yes, I get it that they were sculpted by glacial action. But from above they, or at least the five bigger ones, sure look like they were sculpted by the hand of God.
Almost 20 years ago I crossed the Latvian Estonian border. Near the border there was a huge mansized statue of the head of Karl Marx. When viewed from a different angle or a distance it resembled a tree.
At the time I wandered if a hidden gesture of resistance referring to the old pagan Gods (or the forrest brothers) had been subtly inserted by the artist.
Thanks for sharing, TTG. I frequent the woods daily – I call it getting into tree time – and feel the awe for our living planet and our literal living Father in Heaven. We are part of a living system, magnificent in its complexity and resilience and adaptibility – in this ever-rolling creation in which all living have their part.
The Sikhs have a concept – “Ekankar” – which I understand to mean “the Creation and the Creator are one” – which makes deep sense to me.
Lithuanian, eh? This language is the closest to the original “proto-indo-european”, preserving the oldest forms of the language before the massive expansions of the tribes and the babel of indo-european languages that exist today. Must be very conservative people in the old country!
Happy Easter! Where I am the birds are back finally tho there is still snow in the woods. No impediment to their noisy reproduction activity, chirping away like mad!
duality or refraction … wetware processing artifact. people have a bias toward dyads and triads. parsimony can be overdone.
can the sacred be inflected?
btw same thing happens on water.
” … It was a long walk in the woods, in a forest filled with orchids, ferns and deep shadow. He felt relaxed, and happy in the certitude that, unlike the NVA who were mostly “city boys,” He was a creature of the wild himself, and content with God’s creation.” Cambodis – 1972 from the chapter titled “Beside the City of the Trojans” in my unpublished memoir.
Thank you, TTG
The Germans have an interesting word “Waldeinsamkeit” which might capture some of what you are describing. Thanks for an uplifting write-up.
My wife comes from a village in Prey Veng, she refers to it as Prey Veng. She was just entering her teen age years when all the armies and troubles passed through her village. Although I joined the Army in 1976, my wife has heard more bullets and shrapnel whistling through the leaves than any Vietnam Veteran I know. I mean, how many people have had the pleasure of witnessing an Arc Lite up close. Her family was in Phnom Penh when it was emptied in 1975. Amazingly, her whole family survived through it all, everything, being a blurred old/new people from the village. One of my favorite professors had traveled through Cambodia before the wars and referred to it as “the most peaceful, beautiful Buddhist country imaginable.” I was born and raised in California, where I met her. I connected early with the land and spirit of California. We’ll stay here through it all, wherever that is going, because of that spirit of place. It’s everywhere, and so worth connecting. Thanks for stirring this, Turcopolier.
TTG, I feel the same way every time I have the good fortune to go into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area wilderness here in my home state, but now it is under lethal threat. Immediately to the south and southwest of the BWCA lies one of the world’s largest remaining unexploited bodies of sulfide copper ore. Two mining projects are under consideration. The Polymet project is in the Laurentian watershed, near the headwaters of the St. Louis River which empties into Lake Superior at Duluth. The Twin Metals mine and processing facilities, however are proposed to be located in the Arctic watershed, near the Kawishiwi River, only 2 or 3 miles upstream from the BWCA boundary. If there is a spill over the next several centuries, and given the horrendous environmental track record of this industry it’s far more likely a “when” than an “if,” the damage will be wide-spread and irreversible. The Kawishiwi is more a string of lakes rather than a river in the conventional sense. Its flowage fans out downstream such that a spill into many other lakes in Minnesota and the Quetico Provincial Park across the border in Ontario will be affected in this unique and irreplaceable area. Our previous president, in one of the few responsible acts of his term in office, blocked the Twin Metals project, but his equally over-his-head successor reversed that decision. For the first time in my life I’m considering taking part in demonstrations that Twin Metals is subtly encouraging to become violent. In view of the dozens of times it’s given my spiritual sustenance over the past 66 years since I first went there as a boy scout I owe it something.
Very nice, TTG.
May the forest spirits continue to bless us.
Not to belittle the spiritual value of your post, but I forage for those fiddle heads to boil and saute them later. They’re
Being from European peasant stock, we’ve also preserved some of those traditions from austere times, foraging for young shoots in the spring and edible mushrooms for pickling in the fall.
I get the same feeling of being in a sacred space not only in one country.I think the earths magnetic field plays a role
Could the small white flowers be Mayflowers/trailing arbutus (MA state flower!)? They often have a pinkish coloration and an ethereal, heavenly sweetness in their fragrance.
Many times I’ve been glad to see them here and in other northern forests, spreading along the mossy woods floor.
Yes! It is Mayflower/trailing arbutus. Thanks for your tip. The delicate design on my particular variety is exquisite. I went back out there to test the fragrance. You’re right it is a heavenly sweetness. I had to get close since my crabapples are in full bloom and their fragrance carries into the nearby woods. My lilacs also add to the aromatic symphony. I’ll have to cut some today for SWMBO before the rainstorm hits.
My brothers and I would forage for those fiddleheads along with the wild grapes and sassafras root for tea. Mushroom picking was big in our hometown largely due to all the Lithuanians living there. We’d go to the woods with my father the morning after a rain to fill a bag.
I, too, spent a lot of time in the forests of upstate NY. I went to college in Troy, NY and would often drive off by myself to the north for a day or two. I look back now at the craziness of heading into the north woods on skis without telling anyone where I was going. I long for that absolute and foolhardy freedom. SWMBO would never allow that now.