The magic of the micro-pilgrimage
For many of us today, our relationship with place has become demythologised – a fact which is both an explanation for and a consequence of our sense of alienation from the world around us. Exploring the mythology of place, then – remythologising our places – is not just an interesting intellectual exercise, but an act of radical belonging. Like any other species on this planet, we badly need to be grounded; we need to find our anchor in place, wherever we might happen to live. Stories can be our anchors.
- Sharon Blackie, The Enchanted Life
The first half hour of the morning I spend enjoying the air and watching for miracles.
-May Sarton, Plant Dreaming Deep
A pilgrimage is defined as “the journey of a pilgrim, especially one to a shrine or a holy place.” Millions of people make pilgrimages every year, often to famous sacred sites. Some travel thousands of miles over weeks or even months. The trail washes the spirit, unhooks the ego from its moorings and declutters the brain of too much chatter. This way the pilgrim can arrive at her destination clear of body and mind, ready to be pierced through with insight and understanding.
These days I rarely travel far. I have no desire to. However, I still yearn for these holy experiences. I’ve read much about wilderness rites of passage, which involve staying out alone and fasting for four days and nights. No food, no fire, no phone - just water and a sleeping bag. In some cultures this is also called a vision quest. It’s meant to shake you, trouble you, unravel your comforting realities and wake you up from whatever hypnosis might have gripped you when you weren't paying attention. However I’m not currently able to launch myself into such an intense experience. From what I’ve read, it’s not something to undertake without the correct elder/mentor/guide to welcome you when you return from wild time to “real” time. Finding the right person to guide me is important, so I’ll wait.
In the meantime, in the spirit of the world’s great pilgrimages, I’ve started making what I’ve dubbed micro-pilgrimages. This involves me taking a daily walk to the same natural locations that I’ve chosen for their unique beauty. The point is to pay them special attention and to be open to wonder while in their presence. My walk takes about an hour and I make three stops:
First there is the one I call The Lady. She’s a small stream that flows down from the nearby mountain and under the road through a culvert. Where She exits the culvert, the land is rich with willows, young poplar, wild rose bushes and a fanfare of horsetail. There’s thick moss cupping the sides of Her banks in a display of such extravagant sensuality that it sometimes makes me blush. I look down from the road and delight as the water giggle-gurgles away into the dark forest toward the lake. I notice Her small details and pay Her compliments on her many graces. Only once did I walk down to Her bank in order to pay Her a libation of a freshly picked lupine, but I didn’t like the way my feet crushed the cushion of tender moss. So now I’m content to stand as close as I can without disturbing the scene. I know that by late summer She’ll slow to a trickle and maybe even dry up, and I’ll have to wait until spring comes again to hear Her voice.
Next there’s huge Douglas fir who I sometimes call Papa, Grandpa, Handsome, Old Man, Slow Thunder. He stands stoic and straight in a shaded area of woodland just off the road. His bark is thick, gnarled and dotted with holes where woodpeckers have drilled into his skin for insects. His long roots grip the earth in mutual embrace. I don’t know how long He’s been standing; long enough that there’s no point trying to put anything past Him. He’s emits good father energy. It’s not surprising I feel both small and safe in His presence. During my visits I give Him reports on my spiritual progress and listen for instruction on how to proceed. Sometimes I get lectures about my lack of discipline, but most of the time He’s just glad to see me. I know I’m the first one to really notice Him in...maybe His whole ancient life. If there once was someone who spoke to Him with respect, it was many years ago. We like each other very much.
Finally, I’ve gone and joined a coven of aspen. Well, I’ve asked to join. Time will tell if I pass the initiations required to become a full member of moonlit understanding. Aspen trees have exquisitely smooth white skin with rough black markings. Their pale green leaves shimmy and chatter in the slightest breeze. I know They communicate through Their interconnected roots and I often wonder what They’re saying about me, the woman who comes stumbling through the Saskatoon bushes and into Their midst each day to run her palms over Their bark or hug each one in turn. I pay special attention to one who I’ve recognized as the crone of the group. My fingertips are getting to know Her subtle bumps and rough patches. I speak to Her of Her timeless beauty and thank Her for her wisdom. I love to look up at Her and ask Her to give me an extra leaf dance. Sometimes She does and it makes me marvel every time.
There’s so much talk on the news. Black/White, Left/Right. More and more, I think in terms of Team Earth/Team Tech. Few modern people are truly on Team Earth anymore. Tech has encroached its way into becoming the middle-man for nearly all our daily transactions. There's a screen between us at nearly every turn. Social media. Social distancing. We’re all online. Hooked like fish.
I love the moon but I don't want to live there. Mars is magnificent but its landscape is not my home. I don’t want to store my memories in the cloud. I’m from the Earth. All our human ancestors, going all the way back to who knows when, are of the Earth. Being a living creature on the Earth comes with consequences, the main one being death. Everyone must do it. It’s a non-negotiable contract. Death feeds life. You can’t grow a garden without compost. Too many modern humans have forgotten they have to die, that it’s in the cards, you just don’t know when or how the cards are going to be dealt.
Make no mistake, there’s a war on. Team Tech is winning. They say “Data is King.” They say the name of Data’s Kingdom is called the Matrix and that most don’t even know they’re subjects. Soon they’ll scatter our DNA on the lab floor like legos and build us into some new image. I prefer the old dance of creation, however imperfect we might think it turns out sometimes.
My micro-pilgrimages are part of my dedication to Team Earth. By showing love to these other living beings I can pour out my gratitude to Life itself. The news would have us believe the world is full of hatred. The trees and the stream know nothing of this nonsense. They’re my daily reminder to Wake Up, snap out of it, that the Matrix is a false dream realm full of distorted visions.
Omi’s homework for anyone reading this who would like to join Team Earth:
Design a micro-pilgrimage for yourself to a nearby non-human life form. Make friends with a forest, a creek, a particularly stunning patch of sagebrush. Visit as often as you can. Treat them as you would a wise and respected elder. Bring gifts of stories and small offerings. Become a student of their beauty. Make notes of how you feel after a week, a month, six months of this practice.
Okay then. Love you.