Finding Tom

I always enjoy the workshops and rituals availed to me at Laurelin Retreat, but sometimes it’s the unscheduled times that are the most educational.

On a personal note, my family is having a housewarming party coming up, and because the owners of Laurelin would not be able to attend, I asked if they could give me what we’ve been asking for as a gift regardless: a stone, no smaller than two fists.

Laurelin is fifty-six acres of rolling woods and farmland, crisscrossed with stone walls that now or formerly marked arbitrary boundaries and, like any good New England soil, will yield two good crops of rock a year. There are a lot of stones at Laurelin, and finding the right one for my yard was probably going to take some doing.

Fortune smiled upon me by giving me a companion, Noodleman, who was in need of a Fool’s Errand to complete. My plan had been to supply any number of pictures and make this into a photojournal of our quest. However, I lost the camera immediately after returning home, finding it again in time for a party, only to have it vanish once again, so I don’t expect to be able to give that thousand-to-one ratio promised by pictures. It’s been a week and this post isn’t finished, so I’m just going to have to do this with words alone.

One of the things that’s nice about Laurelin is the plethora of stone walls. Any old agrarian area is going to have them, and central Vermont is no exception. Farmers and landsmen of all sorts learned the art of stacking irregular stones in such a way as to make sturdy boundaries between fields, both marking territory and relocating stones out of plow’s way. I’ve been trying to relearn those skills in the past few days with the stones I’ve been discovering in my compost pile.

None of the stone walls held my interest, and the searching up and down the various streams didn’t find a stone that called out an interest in moving to the Hudson Valley. Finally, we cleared our heads with a solid period of time sitting upon a soft carpet of moss, with no stones in reach.

When we did decide to return to camp, the first stone to catch my eye was perfect. It was sitting on a stone wall along the old road, its top half covered in moss that was populated by inch-long, rust hairs among the bright green carpet. It was in a dry area which was well-shaded, the types of conditions that are abundant in my yard, and particularly in the place where I’m cultivating my moss garden.

“His name is Tom,” Noodleman told me.

Time enough for magic

It’s not my wont to perform magic (and I certainly haven’t studied enough of Crowley to be worthy of performing magicK), and mostly that’s not because I doubt the stuff works. Lots of Pagans are really into spellcraft, and it almost seems like magic itself is their religion; I suppose this is an extension of the active-participant philosophy Pagans have, as opposed to the sit-and-watch-the-holy-man-work tradition that many religions recommend. So as I said, I don’t doubt it works, but I do have a lot of doubts that man understands it anymore than he understands science. I don’t practice genetic engineering or fertility treatment, either.

Magic seems to have in common with other areas of knowledge one trait: humans learn enough about it to get excited, and then they just rush off and try some. We’re really short-lived, so we’re always in a great deal of a hurry to put what we just learned into practice, to try it out and see if we’re right. Being that we have an Epimethean vision of the future, we’re always surprised, a generation or two down the road, when we discover our actions have consequences. What do you mean, all the passenger pigeons are dead? With horror and with the same lack of foresight we often try to fix the problems we created in the first place . . . for example, we added MTBE to gasoline to reduce emissions, and got contaminated groundwater instead.

So mostly I hesitate to engage in magic because Gaiapeds prefer to Leave No Trace, and because I can’t foretell the future, even if my life depends upon it. We’re just such powerful, creative, hasty creatures, we humans, that we go off and try out all our new toys this instant and then cry and get upset when we break them or make a big mess.

Okay, so I’m an earth-walker, which means that I should follow the lessons of the Earth. The Earth doesn’t just sit there, doing nothing . . . should I? Nothing frequently does as much damage as something, and it’s important to recognize that leaving no trace does not necessarily mean doing nothing at all . . . it means choosing the course of action that causes the least harm. The Earth does act. Observe the tides, the erosion, the plate tectonics. When the Earth chooses to act in a certain way, the method is almost always the same: slow, careful action with enough force behind it that it cannot be denied. From time to time, those forces result in big changes, but slow and steady pressure usually has slow and steady results, with the undeniable power of a tree breaking a rock or a shoreline dissolving away.

So I’m not comfortable rushing to an altar and lighting six purple candles, sprinkling dragonsblood deosil and chanting the names of God until the full moon rises. That doesn’t mean I won’t spend three or four months creating serenity, though . . . if it takes long enough, I’m going to understand what I’m doing long before I can do harm. I think that’s the secret to magic and science . . . if we’re willing to spend enough time we’re much more likely to act rightly. Most people really want to do the right thing, but we don’t allow ourselves enough time to discover what the right thing happens to be.

So like those zany Druids, I am proud to consider myself faster than a speeding oak tree.

Geocaching for Fun and Profit

I’m usually a bit of a slug, preferring to sit at my desk and talk about how cool the natural world is than get out in it. So yesterday was a big day for me, as I got to put my money where my keyboard is and do a bunch of cool stuff. After exploring caves in Kingston I tried my hand at geocaching.

When my partner first suggested geocaching to me I was hesitant, because any hobby that requires a decent amount of time and money invested ahead of time should be approached with caution. I like to be careful how I use my money, so it didn’t seem like a good idea. However, I found out friends of mine have a GPS and take the kids out geocaching all the time, so why not?

The finding of the cache, seeing what’s inside, and trading some of those items for ones we brought was neat. What made it a different kind of walk in the woods for me, though, was the kids. Holding the hand of a three-year-old on a somewhat rocky trail makes you look at the terrain in a very different way. She is completely trusting in your ability to keep her safe from harm as she improves her locomotive skills. It was a new way to experience the world through a child’s eyes.

Going Deep

I got to explore the planet in a new way yesterday, wandering down into the ice caves and old mines near Hasbrouck Park in Kingston, New York. Historically the area is known for producing natural cement, and these caves were dug out a fair bit back in the day. The climbing down was scarier than climbing back up, and it was intense to experience the subterranean chill. There are a number of flooded old mine shafts that are best to avoid (story has it that some divers have checked them out and never returned), and ice formations that are pretty impressive for June.

Now I’m told that I wasn’t in any real caves, but I don’t mind. No matter what we accomplish in life, we will always find a friend or acquaintance that will minimize it for us and try to make us believe it’s not impressive enough. Depending on how well I know the person, I’ll do anything from smile and nod while ignoring them to telling them that life isn’t a contest and that if it were I would win because I get extra points for getting over myself. Oneupsmanship is absolutely the most irritating human quality, but I digress.

I am glad I went under the ground. I’m not sure I would do it again, but it’s an experience worth having. I guess if I were really into caving and spelunking the word Gaiaped wouldn’t make as much sense – earth-walker might mean going underground, but it sounds like a stretch to me. What I enjoyed most was the feeling that I was in very real danger if I made a mistake. Putting the natural world into perspective means recognizing that nature can kill you.

Blazing My Trail

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.

There’s always been lots of talk about the path a person takes in life. I don’t think of it that way – to me, it’s a trail, not a path.

A path is worn by the steps of the many that have walked this way before us. A path declares itself, commanding, “Come this way!” Water yields to the furrow of a path, for it is easier to follow the path than find another way to low ground.

Trails are marked by blazes which may or may not always be sufficient to the task. Foot traffic is infrequent enough, or the surface durable enough, to keep a furrow from being worn in. Trails beckon to the attentive, “Come, this way!” Water sometimes impedes trails, crossing them on the way to low ground.

It’s easy enough as a Gaiaped to see how trails better suit my course and direction than do paths or roads. There are times I’m just not going to be able to go the exact way I had intended, and that’s going to happen no matter how much I plan. Planning is good, being able to think on your feet is really good.