The day was gloomy and these woods in particular, standing on the north side of the hill, do not get sun in winter and were muted into half-light. The trees grow tall or snake through one another, reaching for light. Winds blow off Puget Sound and all those that stand are strong trunked.
We—my beloved and I and our perky paced corgi—are making our way through this loveliness—polished green shine of salal bushes, the last yellow leaves falling off the salmonberry bushes, grey skeletons of alder and maple mixed among fir and hemlock and Madrone. Alone. Such stillness when we come to rest, only the forest breathes. We are not drawn to talk much, just finding our way, with occasional exclamations of wonder at the mushrooms or pointing out the flight of small grey bush birds.
Our dog’s head goes up, attention on the path ahead, and here come a man and woman wandering our way. They turn out to be dear island acquaintances Mary and Robert, and we are all happy to stop, to make a little circle in the middle of the path and inquire into this happenstance of intersection. We plunge into the heart of conversation—about our travels, dreams, health, work, and families. Like boring through the growth rings of the tree, we tap into story-glimpses of our lives. After awhile we release each other with another round of hugs and move on our ways through the meandering afternoon.
A question then rises in me: What got transferred between us in the guise of a “chance” meeting on the trail that is, in fact, exactly the message Spirit was trying to transmit this afternoon into our minds and hearts?
With this inquiry in mind, I drift back over the conversation. “Just do something for 30 days—make a month commitment and see what happens…” They are reporting on a seminar they attended, a challenge from a webinar—I don’t remember the source, just the message. This is what I needed to hear: to choose one thing in the New Year that I commit to, and give it a chance to become integrated into my life.
In the week between Christmas and New Year’s we have made a commitment to walk the woods, trails, and beaches of our island every day—to get re-grounded in our home after a year busy with travel. And on these walks I formulate a vow to write in my journal every day in January— to re-establish connection to my own life narrative as we head into 2012 and all it portends.
This encounter on the trail leads me to consider how often “spiritual guidance” seems to come through the apparently chance remarks of other people. We are, indeed, angels in the woods to one another—delivering insight, challenge, guidance, inspiration, often without knowing it, or even meaning to. Everything is reciprocal—for we have mutual impact on each other in these exchanges. A niece calls for “advice”—and what we say to her, we say also to ourselves; what she says to us is meaningful across the generations and different situations.
In this portal time—when contemplating the year past and the year coming, I practice listening for guidance in ordinary conversations: to set out into the day with a question and to notice how, in the jumble of the day’s big and little events, a hint, or even an answer, emerges from the patter of our lives. One day at a time—for 30 days.