Once all these hills would have had great forests covering them, denser along rivers and near springs or lakes, Forests of rowan and ash and beech, grey with mistletoe, holly and ivy. When I went out for a walk yesterday I came back through the path going through woods past the spring and its mossy shelves of slate. I paused there for a short while, just taking it in.
There was a gleaming holly bush there and I thought of the old song we used to sing as schoolchildren far away in Africa where we never saw the bush in question: ‘The holly and the ivy/When they are both full-grown/Of all the trees that are in the wood/The holly bears the crown.’ I could smell the deep earth mould and the damp, the rotting humus which is where the fertile plant life begins. Humus is the Latin word that is the root for humility, that grounding of the self in reality.
As I walked I could still taste the cold definite taste of the pure spring water and hear starlings and blackbirds calling in the forest. All of a sudden it came to me how lost I am, despite the path leading through woodland so clear and well-trodden. Dante’s famous phrase:
Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita
mi retrovai per una selva oscura,
che la diritta via era smarrita.
“In the middle of the journey of our life
I found myself in a dark wood,
for the straight way was lost”
The straight way has been lost and I am now walking along an unknown trail that may lead deeper into the woods or out into sunshine. The darkness is there and I am a fool not to see it. This is one of the most challenging times of my life and the most bewildering. The journey of my life has taken an about-turn and I do not know where it is leading. I have to trust the darkness of the forest, the shining leaves of holly, the ash and rowan trees, the nurturing of the spirit in dark places.
I have lost my way and there is nobody to tell me which way to go. I do not know my destination. I am simply expploring the forest and hoping for the best. And I am present to the journey within, of sober spirit and attentive.