Learning to Read the Signs When the Time is Right
We sweat over the smallest details, yet we know from experience that when the time is right, the answer appears. Why does learning to read the signs seem to be a hard lesson? How many times do we have to be shown? Many it seems.
Because I have a secondary goal of completing the entire 900km/600-mile length of the Bruce Trail in my lifetime during my contemplative walks, I log my distances. White blazes painted on trees and signposts mark the way from one end to the other. Detailed guidebooks show distances, parking areas, and access points. They’re necessary for logging progress for those who want to know how far they’ve gone—and how far they have yet to go.
Last Sunday I was in the middle of the forest, following my progress on my paper map. When I’m planning my day’s walk, I look for a parking area where I can walk in and back and make my intended distance. Often there are distinct landmarks, like a township road allowance, or stream, so I know where I’ve left off. It makes it easy to recognize when I approach from the opposite direction next time. This time there was no obvious indicator to tell me where I was.
Although I carry my phone, I dislike pulling it out or relying on technology out there. I knew I was within 500 meters of my distance for the day but had no idea what I’d use for a landmark. Everything looked the same.
Reluctantly I pulled out my trail app and checked my location. Sure enough, I was about 500 meters short of my goal. I stuffed the phone back in my backpack and walked what I thought was the distance and began looking for potential landmarks I’d remember. When I rounded a corner in the trail, I looked up and laughed out loud. An innocuous sign was posted on a tree in the middle of the woods, for no clear reason. I’d remember that! Checking my app, sure enough, I was exactly where I wanted to be.
Please note that I do not ascribe to the lore that everything is a sign from the universe. Some things, however, are too obvious to ignore. And I do believe that Creator has a sense of humor.
I sat there for a while on a large, moss-covered granite stone, rounded smooth over millions of years of life. What life, stories, did it hold? Who else had shared this space? What do these rocks, plants, and trees have to teach me?
The landscape holds the energy of all those who have passed through it. They may have been walkers on the footpath or settlers trying to tame the wilderness. Trees, rocks, water and wildlife have all contributed and all have stories to share. So many stories of transient lives have come and gone live along its length, some longer than others. Indigenous Elders teach us the central challenge of life is the task of learning appropriate relationships—not only between people but also with all other created things that we regard as relatives1.
For now, it was enough to close my eyes and rest with this rock as my feet connected with the cool damp earth. It was such a beautiful space and I’d be back, connecting from another direction. For now, it was time for the return trip to my car, learning to read the signs on the trail I’d come from. This time I’d be doing so from a different perspective.
- Blair Stonechild, Loss of Indigenous Eden, University of Regina Press, 2020, p. 16
Historically, August has been the month I’ve started long travels. This time marks the end(?) of a transition time that has been tumultuous and difficult, as it has been for most of us. I’ll be taking a break from writing and may travel before returning to university in September.
See you in September!