rivers and gorge paths and trees
April 19, 2021 8:41 PM   Subscribe

I feel a strong spiritual connection to running water and trees and places where they live. I would like to explore and deepen that connection. Any suggestions?

I mentioned offhandedly to my friend “I wish I could just throw myself entirely into spending time with gorge paths and forest trails, because that relationship means so much to me and I still don’t understand a lot about it.” And then realized... wait! I can!!

For me, I have tended to bond closely with a specific trail of park where I’ve lived and taken to daily visits, where paying attention carefully has opened the door to feeling strong unconditional love and safety feelings. Photography (just on my phone) is an accessible way to pay attention, and I like just lying there too and sharing updates about the places with the people in my life.

I’m curious about practical steps to do this more - like I think planning more deliberate day-long hikes could be really wonderful - but I’m especially interested in hearing how people have cultivated this with a spiritual dimension as well (context, I’m a between-meetings Quaker with animist/panpsychic leanings). What did deepening this relationship look like for you? Did certain books or ideas provide guidance for you along the way?
posted by elephantsvanish to Religion & Philosophy (20 answers total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I just joined iNaturalist, and have only posted one observation so far. However I've already taken several photos of observations that I plan to add, and knowing I could do that added a lot to the experience. Observations include animals and plants.
posted by amtho at 8:45 PM on April 19, 2021 [3 favorites]

Best answer: You might want to have a look at this series of articles
posted by zdravo at 8:58 PM on April 19, 2021

Best answer: I don't know if this is the kind of answer you are looking for, but books like Annie Dillard's Pilgrim At Tinker Creek or Nan Shepherd's The Living Mountain or Matthew Davis' Opening the Mountain: Circumambulating Mount Tamalpais, A Ritual Walk or even Roger Deakin's Waterlog: A Swimmer's Journey all approach the "how do people approach a spiritual connection to a natural place" question for me.
posted by niicholas at 9:43 PM on April 19, 2021 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I wrote my Masters' thesis about a creek that runs through the city in which I live. It applied a lot of then-current eco-philosophy to my experience of exploring and discovering the place; and the impossibility of 'mastering' it, as it were.

I'm not writing this to suggest you take an advanced degree in something (nearly) entirely unemployable (I count myself extremely fortunate to have been able to do this). I'm writing this to say that if you go and subject yourself to things (writing (fiction, non), music, visual art, movies) that will make you think about what you're experiencing in new ways, then you'll find *everything*. Or at least a lot.

Books that worked for me were Jane Bennett's 'Vibrant Matter', Timothy Morton's 'Hyperobjects' and 'Dark Ecology', Steven Shaviro's 'The Universe of Things', Jeff Vandermeer's 'Annihilation' and James Bradley's 'Clade'.

If you want other recommendations or just want to talk rivers and forests, memail me.
posted by rhooke at 10:00 PM on April 19, 2021 [4 favorites]

Best answer: The Overstory by Richard Powers
Walden by Henry David Thoreau
Semiosis by Sue Burke
posted by caek at 11:40 PM on April 19, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Waterporn! Pre-empted by niicholas to recommend Pilgrim at Tinker Creek and Nan Shepherd and Waterlog. Also
Aidan Higgins: Ronda Gorge and Other Precipices
Andrew Grieg: At the Loch of the Green Corrie
. . . the story of Grieg's pilgrimage to catch a fish from that loch in honour of the poet Norman MacCaig, his mentor and friend
Robert Macfarlane: The Old Ways; a journey on foot.
Rory Stewart: The Marches
. . . has the conceit that Rory, approaching 40, will go trekking in the borrrders between England and Scotland more or less (mostly less) accompanied by his father Brian Stewart, approaching 90.
Rupert Sheldrake: Science and Spiritual Practices: transformative experiences and their effects on our bodies, brains and health
Sheldrake enumerates 7 spiritual practices and you may read the book to see where the science fits in:
Connecting with nature
Relating to plants
Singing and chanting
Pilgrimage and holy places.
Gorge Walking or Ghyll Scrambling is a wetter, less meditative means of connection.
posted by BobTheScientist at 12:09 AM on April 20, 2021

Best answer: your story sounds similar to mine

for me, meditation has been a large part of this path - i practice letting the stir of the mind settle so that i can listen better to what's going on inside and around me - i take that spirit into the woods with me and listen to the trees and waters where I live

photography has also been a way for me to slow down, listen, and connect (first with a phone and more recently with a borrowed dslr) - also writing and abstract ink drawings (mostly stream of consciousness type things to go along with the body of water or land)

reading is nice but, to me, nothing beats the first-hand experience of sitting and being with (a stream, a stone, a tree, a vista) and letting it move you
posted by kokaku at 1:56 AM on April 20, 2021

Best answer: You might be interested in forest bathing. Here are articles on it from NPR and National Geographic. I learned about it from Melanie Choukas-Bradley, who's mentioned in the NPR article; she is a local living legend for tree lovers in DC.
posted by wicked_sassy at 5:58 AM on April 20, 2021

Best answer: Every Moment, Only Once sums up a 7-week backpacking retreat that some of the monastics in Thich Nhat Hanh's zen buddhist tradition undertook on the Appalachian Trail. I accompanied them on the final week from Harper's Ferry to DC on the C&O canal - a path I thought I knew well - and it deepened my practice considerably.
posted by headnsouth at 6:30 AM on April 20, 2021

Best answer: Would you have the time/patience/enthusiasm to create an IRL journal/scrapbook of this place? Print out photos that you've taken that you particularly like, stick them in, doodle around or on them, write words or sentences or whole pages, either on particular themes, or diary entries following the trail through the seasons, or just stream of consciousness. Press/preserve some natural things that you find on the trail that have already fallen from their plants - blossom, leaves, etc. to illustrate the passing of the year. Use different colours and materials.

Connecting your feelings for the gorge with your creative self could be a lovely process in itself, quite apart from the fact you'd end up with a tangible record of the way your connection with it evolves over time.
posted by penguin pie at 7:23 AM on April 20, 2021

Best answer: I, too, have this affinity, and have a special creek trail I visit almost daily. Last summer, I learned about every plant that grows along the trail. Now when I go there it's like I'm surrounded by friends.

Once, I traced the path of the creek to its source and its outlet, so I know where it's coming from and where it goes.

I build fairy houses in hidden spots and rock cairns in obvious ones, so everyone who comes there can see that this place is cared for, is special, so that they too will tread lightly and take care.

But mostly I come to sit by the creek, and to listen. Sometimes I talk to the water, and spill out my troubles, or my gratitude. But mostly I listen to the song it makes, and hear its truth in my heart.

In my spiritual practice, water is extremely sacred, and we have specific songs that honor it. It is in every living thing, connecting us. It is where all life began. It flows through everything in turn before rising again and raining down pure, no matter how much has been done to it along the way.

So I listen and try to learn.
posted by ananci at 7:36 AM on April 20, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: caek's selections are wonderful, and I'd like to add:

The Secret Knowledge of Water
Fresh Water

as each has helped me understand the relationship between water and earth and those of us who depend on maintaining a connection to them.
posted by OHenryPacey at 8:29 AM on April 20, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You might find it helpful to consider yourself a trail steward. This article really hit home when I read it; share what you love with other people, and make it even better. Maintaining the trail is a great way to bond with the trail. In Oregon, one group doing this is in Forest Park, but you can probably pull tips from various other groups as well.
posted by hydra77 at 8:39 AM on April 20, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Are there places near you where you could go stand up paddleboarding (SUP)? It’s easy for beginners, the board is silent and you can sit and chill in the water and watch the trees. Some places offer SUP yoga too.
posted by rogerroger at 9:55 AM on April 20, 2021

Best answer: Couple of things that I've been into on this very subject:

Emergence magazine sounds like the exact thing you're looking for; also take a look at the poems of Wendell Berry.

I'm halfway through How to Read Water: Clues and Patterns from Puddles to the Sea and very much enjoying it. You'll never look at a body of water the same way again.
posted by jquinby at 11:31 AM on April 20, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Read Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer! They write about understanding a tree as a person, a place as a verb.

Review: “Most people don’t really see plants or understand plants or what they give us,” Kimmerer explains, “so my act of reciprocity is, having been shown plants as gifts, as intelligences other than our own, as these amazing, creative beings – good lord, they can photosynthesise, that still blows my mind! – I want to help them become visible to people. People can’t understand the world as a gift unless someone shows them how it’s a gift.”
posted by spamandkimchi at 12:46 PM on April 20, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Emberwood is Edmonton,AB based, but all virtual right now and sounds PERFECT for what you're looking for.
posted by Sweetchrysanthemum at 12:47 PM on April 20, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Son of a gun! I picked up Braiding Sweetgrass at the same time I bought How To Read Water! So consider that a soft recco to go along with spamandkimchi!
posted by jquinby at 1:21 PM on April 20, 2021

Best answer: I find that knowing something of the ecology of a place enhances my appreciation for it and connection to it. Things like knowing names for plants, fungi, insects and noticing that this one likes damp, shady areas or grows in association with that tree. My particular interest is plants and fungi, but birdwatching, turning over rocks and logs to find amphibians/reptiles, and insects are all pretty accessible paths. Mammals are easier to observe via scat and tracks. Any of these will also connect you to the seasonal cycle. iNaturalist is a great way to see what you can expect to find in an area as well as submitting observations, and is a COVID-friendly way that plant societies are keeping in touch, you can look for “projects” in your area.

+1 for Braiding Sweetgrass. RWK does a great job of connecting traditional indigenous knowledge to a scientific point of view (she is Potowatomi and a biology professor).
posted by momus_window at 4:16 PM on April 20, 2021

Best answer: Do you live near a good trail you would like to get to know? I think some way of making a routine for your hiking time every day would give you the time and space to work on a lot of these suggestions. So, if necessary, move closer to a park that has the kind of space you want. And maybe try to have a between work and dinner is walking time, at least for the times of year that's possible.

I've also enjoyed sketching in nature, even if my art comes out okayish. I see more closely and clearly then when I don't try to draw it. (And not even always drawing trees or mountains, where realism is the goal. Sometimes I draw what I see in cloud shapes or rock formations, like dancers or a whale. Or try to get the feel of waves and wind, instead of a whole landscape.)
posted by Margalo Epps at 9:46 PM on April 28, 2021

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