March 28 , 2023 /


It is a sunny afternoon and I walk into the woods, toward one of my favorite spots, and look for my sitting log on the west bank of the Santa Cruz River.  As I go deeper into the woods, I think about “forest bathing” and how I might practice that today, immersing myself in the natural world and letting my own mood guide my activity. It’s essentially an opportunity to step away from the cares of everyday life and simply be.

Sitting on the log, I see a pair of mallards on the opposite shore about 40 yards upstream from me.  I sit still and watch them and they see me watching them and because I respect the distance and do not move, they move slowly, wading in the shallow water, and swim upstream a little farther. She dips her head into the water, maybe to eat some new Spring vegetation and he watches me as if part of his job is to keep her safe.  They may have a nest nearby or they may be looking for where they can put one to lay eggs and raise their ducklings safely.

They swim a little farther along and then into the middle of the river where the current is stronger and it carries them across to my side.  They seeM content now for me to be their audience and we continue like this for half an hour or so.  The river runs quietly and the only sound besides some birds are the leaves stirred by a slight breeze.  Sitting with my feet on sandy soil where the cottonwood trees stand tall, I feel connected to their roots underground and connected to my own roots in nature too.

This “forest bathing” meditating mindfulness enlivens my mind, body and spirit without any recipe or formula save that of being there.  Being in the moments of now, I sense the play of sunlight and shadow.  I close my eyes and do some conscious breathing, six or so counts inhaling through my nose and the same counts exhaling out through my mouth.  With senses alert, I turn the page and the rustle of the paper seems like an intrusion.   A week ago, Sunday, March 19, I wrote “Stopping By the Woods on a Sunday Afternoon”  Now on a Monday, here I am again. I don’t think the forest or those who live here care what day it is.

The mallards seem to have found a resting place a little farther upstream.  My resting place here is stationary and likely to be here again when I return someday.  Some leaves drop down into the river current and are carried swiftly away downstream. Cottonwood seeds drift slowly and I catch one descending to the forest floor.  There is a small gust of wind and hundreds of seeds go floating by suspended on their parachutes.

Here come the mallards toward me now. They see me again and stop.  I stand and bid them farewell. They remain.  I tell them that I will return.  Who talks to mallards?

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