"Loons awakened me many summer mornings of my childhood. Across Kimball Pond their inimitable calls came wafting, perfectly bridging the realm of sleeping and the world of waking. Some mornings, when there was a thick fog on the pond, their song seemed to arise from haunted phantoms living deep beneath the water's surface. But when the day dawned bright and clear, their voices were among the most welcoming sounds I had ever heard. Lying in my bed in our cabin in the Maine woods, I could listen to the loon chant for a long, long time, echoing back and forth as it did like choral call and response. I loved the loons' refrain beyond any understanding that my rational brain could clarify, but even as a young girl I sensed their birdsong was a gateway into something essential, something that would shape the rest of my life. Even then I intuited that encoded in the loon's call was the message that contact with the wild could set me free.
"Now in my late-sixties, I have more words for what I instinctively knew as a girl. I understand how the landscape allows me to feel part of an intricate evolutionary design, both enlarging me while simultaneously rendering me insignificant. Living within the tension of these opposites helps free me as a human creature. Nature constantly demonstrates that this path to freedom is a vital and demanding spiritual journey. Patient and ever present the natural world is always available to help me with this journey. Thus my daily walks along the Ashokan Way reflect the phases of spiritual practice that can lead to liberation: exile, return, and belong.
"As I begin my daily walking meditations, all too often I am exiled from my natural state. Stressed, self-absorbed, and separate, I find myself imprisoned by the small bounded world of my ego. But entering the landscape, I am soon returned to consciousness, awake to the larger web of life of which I am a part. An awareness of the mountains, water, forests, or the call of loons – any of these can bring me back to mindfulness, and a sense of myself as part of a much larger whole. My focused attention to some specific aspect of nature quiets the chatter in my mind and I feel less isolated and more connected. By the end of the hour-long walk my equilibrium and sense of self have been restored. My mind has emptied, my life is clearer, and I am no longer separate from myself nor from the greater cosmos. I am both smaller and larger. Nature has returned me to my natural state of belonging, the place where my deepest liberation resides."