As I left the parking lot and started out along the trail the first wild neighbor to greet me was a hermit thrush. A loose flock of them were foraging in the undergrowth of the mixed forest. Farther along the path a big toad hopped along in an attempt to evade my presence. It didn't work, so she peed on me.
I eventually made it to the spot along the West Rim of the Pine Creek Gorge that is called Barbour Rock. I took a couple hours to do some plant identification. The plants are my wild neighbors too.
Honestly, this was the reason for my being at Barbour Rock Trail on this warm sunny morning. Above the canopy it was nothing but clear skies.
At the location along the West Rim of the Pine Creek Gorge known as Barbour Rock I took note of several notable species which included the following:
Dwarf Juniper- Note 3 needled whirls, white on top of each needle. Interesting smell; citrus, very aromatic, a bit more "fruity" than pine. Low growing creeping shrub looks like a spiky green blanket covering the ground, and even cascading over the edges of big rocks. Smell of crushed ripe fruit pungent and almost overpowering to my sense of smell.
Gray Goldenrod- Longish rounded leaves, slender, flowers all on same side of stem facing same direction, small hairs along stem with tiny leaflets near flowers.
Blue-Stemmed Goldenrod- Long smooth pointed leaves, flowers on leaf axils, plumb-colored stem.
Silver Rod- Only white species of goldenrod. stem and entire plant slender, wand-like. Crushed leaves smell like sweet tea!
Red Cedar- Rough flaky bark. Two leaf types; scales and spines. Small round berry-like fruit green to dark green. Some very gnarly looking growing around big rocks.
These are some tough plants. You have to be tough to make a living in such loose and nutrient poor soil. The steep slope makes conditions even more inhospitable for most plants. Only the strong and resilient survive here. Like plants of the ghetto, but this is no ghetto. Some of the most fantastic views of the canyon are seen from Barbour Rock. If only these junipers had eyes to see it!
Looking out over the deep open space separating East Rim from West Rim its easy to imagine a great flow of glacial melt-water carving it into its present condition.
Perched on Barbour Rock there is a colony of ants. As I watched them today they were busy transporting the abdomen of an orb-weaving spider that was four times the size of one ant. I wonder how they acquired such a prize!
Usually I'm looking up at birds, but with so many wild neighbors to make the acquaintance a change in perspective brings forth invaluable benefits.
Life is happening all around. Even as I look down to observe insects and plants I can hear the voice of a raven as it circles overhead; close enough for me to hear a series of almost musical muffled gurgling notes. The raven is closer than usual because I'm tucked beneath the sparse canopy as I gaze upon the fruit of a dwarf juniper. It doesn't smell as good as the needles so I think I'll leave tasting it to the wildlife.
I walked about a hundred steps to the north, still along the canyon rim. I found a cozy nook in the low hanging branches of one of my favorite trees; chestnut oak. As I write this, reclined on the nearly horizontal lower branch of a gnarly old lichen covered chestnut oak blue jays are sounding off in the forest with their "horn" call.
A tiny aphid walks along my hand to the top of my thumb; I think I'll help him get to the silver rod flower that's growing at the base of this tree.
Reclined upon the branch of this gnarly old tree, blue sky above, sunlight brightly streaming through a canopy of wide lobed toothed leaves that rustle about in the gentle breeze, I can feel the change in the seasons. I guess sometimes sauntering looks like lounging on a sturdy branch.
I feel humbled to be here.
To be in this wild sanctuary. To be present and aware as these sacred moments unfold. To welcome an acquaintance with so many wonderful and beautiful wild neighbors as they welcome me.
To exist in community with the wild neighbors who call this wild space home.
Where wild neighbors praise our Creator day and night.
All wild neighbors lend themselves to a unique expression of Divine creativity that is the collective praise lifted by this wild space. In biological terms this is called species composition. In my present state of awareness I'm tempted to call it worship.
Wild spaces have something to teach us; about life, community, and connection.
In our human society, people may reject you, cities, towns and villages my attempt to spit you out, but wild spaces will always welcome you home.
Our wild neighbors and the wild spaces they call home welcome us. And they ask something of us.
Have we eyes to see, hears to hear, a receptive mind and an open heart to join their chorus of praise with thankfulness, respect, and care?
Finding God, self, and community in wild spaces. The better we know our wild neighbors the more we'll discover ourselves.
A vision informed by Henry David Thoreau’s interpretation of sauntering, Jesus’ understanding of neighbor, Aldo Leopold’s concept of thinking like a mountain, Rachel Carson’s prophetic voice and John Muir’s way of capturing the beauty and uniqueness of wild neighbors with words.