There are times when it’s important to consider the covenants we have with the soil and all that’s on it. Such a time came the other day as I stepped into a forested piece of the rural countryside.
The air was a little heavy with July’s humidity, the summer heading into its dog-days when rural kids are told to stay away from their local swimming holes but splash in the warmed water anyway, despite their parents’ warnings.
The air immediately closed tightly around me as I entered into the woods, seeming to make my breathing even more difficult.
My head lightened a bit, making me worry that the forest’s air had become so thick with summer’s lushness that it was closing around tightly and suffocating me.
But then, a new awareness emerged from the leaves – an awareness I remember feeling on so many other visits to that forest: The light-headedness I felt was the result of intoxication from the wonderfully cleansed oxygen the trees produced.
The forest’s air drips with that oxygen, and I remembered how the forest is a place for renewing my oxygen reserves, and not a place of suffocation.
The forest is a place that inhales all the deadly carbon monoxide waste my breath offers, filters it and exhales its purified oxygen to sustain life for me and so many other beings.
It would be easy to know we have such a life-giving agreement with the forest, but lucky are those among us know that the covenant’s fine print offers more.
Some of us know that, like our breath’s wastes, the forest can take into its floor’s duff-carpet the daily worries of a person’s spirit. And just as the forest filters our breathing waste into life-giving oxygen, it filters our worries and renews the heart with a cleansed spirit.
That covenant also has language in which the forest filters the day’s noise and turns it into gentle leaf-rustles, calming us with the gentle sounds of big-water waves moving against the horizon.
I again considered that agreement early on a late July morning.
The air again weighed heavily in that previous night’s summer heat. I’d negotiated then with the land that I’d honor it in verse if it would open itself to show me that autumn somewhere in the future.
The air still was heavy with humidity that morning, but in a way that brought the sky and the soil into one. The Timber Creek coulee below to the north was covered with a morning haze, as were the trees in the woods to the south. The ridge, somehow, was left clear.
I worried at first that the land wasn’t honoring our agreement until I carried my cup of morning coffee into the farmyard to get a better look at what the day was offering.
There, a clip of cool air slapped my bared arms.
Steam rose from the hot coffee.
Somewhere in that air lingered the autumn mornings for which I so lust during the years’ hottest days. It still would more than a month before its reality, but that morning I felt its presence.
The soil again had kept its part of the bargain.
The air was inviting enough to draw me to one of the farmyard’s Leopold benches to share my coffee with nature’s morning richness.
I gleefully accepted.
It was a few minutes before the sun rose fully in the east and started to pull the white haze from the slumbering creek and trees. They yawned a “good morning” greeting to me on a gentle breeze of cool morning air.
Words dripped from the breeze as it caressed my being, those words helping me honor my part of the agreement:
“I find an early morning moment to laze on a Leopold bench among the blossomed hostas. Mourning doves provide soothing music as I contemplate the azure beauty above and the verdant shades a gentle breeze moves across this northern Driftless Area soil.
The hum of frenzied work on honey bees’ wings among blossoms and of hummingbirds at nearby feeders threaten to belie the lazed mood. Instead, they only add to the land’s soothing music.
A young rabbit joins my party, settling a few feet from me in its mute nose-wiggling contentment of sampling the farm-yard’s grass. Together, we watch in silence the cardinals, jays, grosbeaks, orioles, buntings, grackles and finches quietly foraging at a feeding station.
In this place I find my peace with relaxed sips from a favorite coffee mug. Life just then has slowed to the best of unwound moments.”
I’m sure there are many things I haven’t read in the covenant, and my life likely will end before I know all that’s in the agreement. That, of course, will require steady returns to the forest to learn more – and, to take advantage of all the renewal I already know it offers. It will require constant negotiations so I’m allowed to take parts in moments that so allow the unwinding of whatever self-made tensions might be in me.
The only thing of which I’m sure is that this land and all around it is open to wondrous deals that bring fullness to me. It’s important that I remember to take the time and be willing to negotiate.
A well-done deal with the soil is life itself.
— Scott Schultz