Ji Ko Ji Jikoji Retreat Center, 12100 Skyline Blvd, Los Gatos, CA 95033, phone: (408) 741-9562

Spirit of Walking

Naturalist Notebook
By Charles Ewing
July 2009

Before the summer sun rises to bring its fierce heat, I often sit in the cool morning stillness and open my senses to the Earth’s awakening. I have no expectation or intention in my sitting. There is no need to focus on particulars. There is only my soft attention to being aware of the world around me. Each of my senses has its place in this awareness. The cool morning air touches my face and brings the scent of black sage to my nose. My eyes become aware that the world is beginning to brighten and I can now see the quiet land stretching across the meadow to the trees and beyond to the mountains that rise out of the great western sea. Suddenly, out in the silent chaparral, I hear a quail’s first morning call. Soon other feathered beings add their own distinctive calls and songs of awakening--the plaintive cooing of a distant mourning dove, the first raucous call of an acorn woodpecker as it announces the new day to its clan. Across the meadow, high on an old oak snag, I hear a flicker’s rapid tattoo as it telegraphs its territory to others of its kind. Each bird, in its turn, offers its distinct greeting to the new day. Over the years I’ve learned to know each of their songs and calls. After all they are my friends and neighbors. They are part of my daily life. Now that the sun has cleared the eastern hills, it’s time for me to begin my new day too. Perhaps I’ll sing a morning song.

A Summer Hike

We began our hike embraced by cool morning air. Four hours later we stand high upon a chaparral-covered ridge and the morning’s coolness has fled from a fierce summer sun. Dry heat pervades everything. It quiets and slows the world around us. Sounds once too subtle to hear against the pianoforte of spring’s jubilation now stand distinct and ethereal against the vastness of the surrounding silence. The sounds that we do hear are distinct and sparse. A feral bee passes below us. A slight breeze touches our ears and rustles the dry leaves. A raven calls in the distances. It pulls our sight out over the rolling chaparral. Far below in an oak-shaded canyon the faint tapping of a woodpecker ascends to our ears. The sound of its industrious work reminds us of an ancient imperative: summer will pass and food must be gathered for the cold, lean months ahead.

We are fortunate that there are still wild place like this---places where the natural order of creation are untrammeled. Let us enter on foot with only the necessities we can carry with our natural body. Let us enter stripped of our manufactured armor, so we must rely on our unaltered senses and primal intellect for our understanding, enjoyment and security. Then our rewards will manifest continuously.

A Favorite Walk

Although not autonomic, walking is as natural as breathing. Like language, the abilities to stand upright and learn to walk are born into us. We learn the skill at a very early age and most of us can still walk as we near the end of our life. For me, walking is the very best way to experience the natural world around us. The slow, quiet pace and the easy rhythm of walking allow our senses to come into direct contact with our surroundings. We move through the world with one foot always attached to the Earth. Each step brings a new view, a new sound, a new smell and a new feel. Those same attributed have the added benefit of allowing our frenetic minds to ease and open to a more spacious and quiet world within ourselves.

Even though walking allows us to explore new places, some of us have a favorite trail or country road that we walk over and over again. Each time we walk that favorite way, we discover new and previously hidden wonders as our view, our mood and the seasons change. Each time we walk our route, we become more intimate with the particular world we encounter. I have a favorite walk. It’s a two-mile loop through oak woodlands, a maze of chaparral, over exposed slick rock, across open meadow and along a ridge with vast views of our countryside. If you’ve been on one of my guided nature hikes, then you’ve accompanied me on my favorite walk. If you’ve seen my two photos that were chosen for the 2011 Bryson-Hesperia calendar, they were taken along the route of my favorite walk.

If you don’t have a favorite walk, the easiest way to discover yours is to step out the door and follow your feet.


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