Saturday, August 15, 2015 – 6:13am  (with thanks to on being)
Photo by Hamish Irvine

Wild Sanctuary

BY TOM JABLONSKI,  GUEST CONTRIBUTOR
worked in the environmental field in industry, consulting, and government for over 25 years. He lives in Blaine, Minnesota and blogs at Ecological Leadership.

A patch of wilderness, a remnant of land not completely taken over by humans at that point in time, surrounded me. It was a small strip of land located between Highway 65 and the vacant land that paralleled it to the west, and the housing development in which I lived.

At one time the land was likely cleared and the earth had been reshaped. Old berms and piles of dirt marked the landscape, but the wild vegetation had reclaimed the disturbed soil. My observations were interrupted by the call of some animal. I thought it might be a bird, crying out in a loud shrieking that almost drowned out the sound of traffic on the highway. The call got louder and then softer. The chickadees that flitted around the nearby trees seemed to ignore it. What was the call and who was making it? And what was my call?

I had been doing some volunteer work to try and fill my day with some meaning, but the tasks did not fill me with the sense of accomplishment I sought. What was it like to experience a real sense of accomplishment? Maybe it was not experiencing accomplishment that kept me going. For what more was there in life once accomplishment had been achieved?

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Round Lake in St. Paul MN.

Credit: Jim Brekke License: Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).

The leaves had mostly fallen off all the trees, and they lay covering the ground. A brown layer interspersed with a patch of black where the leaves had been pushed away to expose the rich, black humus below — a silt-sand-organic matrix filled with microscopic life.

As was typical of those times of solitude, two airplanes sliced through the sky above, their engines churning out there own matrix of noise, exhaust, and propulsion. The sun broke through the overcast sky, sending a strong beam of light and warmth my way. Some remnants of grass dangling from a brown stem rocked back and forth in the breeze that blew through the tangle of wilderness. The trees in the area appeared to be a hardy lot: poplars, box elders, and other shrubs.

A red fox walked through the clearing in front of me, wandering within 30 feet of where I sat. It passed through sniffing the ground, not seeming to notice me as I watched and marveled at the site of it.

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A fox near Red Rocks Amphitheater in Morrison, Colorado.

Credit: Max and Dee Bernt License: Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).

And then it faded away into the past year’s dried grass. Times like those were good times. This patch of wilderness brought me back to the areas of wilderness I spent time with during my childhood. Going to that place reminded me how sacred those small patches were. They were sanctuaries for life, for creation, for sanity.

So what was it that brought me to that spot at the time when the fox would share its presence with me? And was it the fox that made the strange call I heard when I first came to the place? What brought the leaf down from the tree above and caused it to land in the open spot between my left thumb and forefinger? Were all of those happenings merely coincidences, merely chance meetings of different life forms? Or was there a connection, was there meaning, a message to me telling me what I was called to do? Or was it that I simply enjoyed sitting there, observing, savoring; escaping the places that did not seem to fill me with the same sense of awe.

Small birds somewhere in the distant treetops sang a soft short song — a calling out, an experience of joy, a voice announcing a presence. A crow much further away cawed. The hum of the traffic masked the softer sounds, the more distant sounds. And vines enveloped the tree and the brush, below which I sat ruminating my life.

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Light illuminates the Reservoir Canyon Trail in San Luis Obispo, California.

Credit: Steve Corey License: Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).

The tree that I sat under reminded me of the tree that the Buddha sat under while experiencing nirvana. What creatures, what voices, which distractions called out to the Buddha as he pondered his own life? Was there more to enlightenment then simply being present to that which existed around me? Was the moment all there was? Now that I had found it, was I called back to chop wood and haul water, clean bathrooms, vacuum and go on with the volunteering jobs that did not give me the sense of meaning and accomplishment I sought? Could it be that smiling at some kids or helping one or two of them to zip up their coat was all I needed to accomplish that day?

Questions like those would not likely be answered. They likely existed to simply keep me prodding along, to keep living, to keep moving, and to keep interacting. It seemed like it was the interactions of life that could give me the sense of accomplishment I desired.

The time of reflection, serenity, and existence would not hold meaning if it was not shared through the interactions called life. Maybe what I needed to do was to not just focus on the fox, or the voice of the bird, but to pay attention to the brush, to the distraction, to the traffic, and the long grass that hid the fox. The breeze picked up, the sun receded behind a cloud, and I felt chilled. It was time to recede myself from that remnant of wilderness, time to return home to face the distractions of my life, time to focus on the mundane, the ordinary, and find what I sought.

A strange call reverberated dull. Questions of meaning filled the skull. A fox — red, soft, and close to the ground — walked through the place as leaves tumbled down. Sniffing the earth, searching, and blending, it entered the zone, the place of grass bending. The red coat began to disappear, its white-tipped tail the only memory it was near. Time, space, and tranquility. It seemed that was what life could be.

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