“Your great mistake is to act the drama as if you were alone…” David Whyte
I heard the first geese a few days ago, flying overhead, their calls to one another heralding autumn, the season of mystery and transformation. The tupelo trees have been sending out their own bright signals, leaf by ruby leaf. For weeks until now, the forest has shimmered with glinting green light, without nuance or hint of fall. Perhaps it is the way the late summer sun falls against the trees, which remain full to the brim with green foliage made dense by bountiful rainfall. A multitude of mushrooms decorate the forest floor: some rosy red, others pale, nodding on delicate stems, still others orange or brown, diminutive or broad. Wild grasses and plants burst with yellow, magenta, bright blue blossoms; insects sing. The garden is bursting with growth, and the peach trees and grape arbor lean gracefully, heavy with ripe fruit.
All summer long we’ve had picnics and barbecues, enjoyed raspberries, blueberries, blackberries and wine berries; reveled in the sun, moon, and stars, meteor showers and the eclipse. Recently we processed basketfuls of dried garlic and dug wheelbarrows of potatoes.
Yet underneath the revels and the gratitude, there is another, sadder and more uncertain tone, for we live in troubled and troubling times. At community supper, Joy told the story of how she and a friend were driving down the road talking of how to cope with it all by remembering daily mercies. Just as Joy was expressing gratitude that the people in the cars on the highway were safely moving toward their destinations, she and her friend crested the hill and came upon a small accident. Even our earnest attempts to find relief from the distressing news arriving incessantly on our screens can be capriciously thwarted.
It is no wonder that people come to Rolling Ridge seeking solace, a place away from the noise to attend to other things. Likewise, those of us who live here have developed the habit of pointing out to one another the small beauties and astonishments of this place. We send pictures via text: a luna moth alighting on the finger of a child, a garter snake in the elderberries, the sheep lined up perfectly in the afternoon sun like dancers in a ballet, a box turtle laying eggs in the mulch pile.
We need retreat, silence, and opportunities for wonder and deeper expression just now, not only for solace, but because they usher us to a place where transformation begins. Sound & Silence, a retreat that the flyer described as “embodying the sacred rhythms of drumming, chant, nature and silence” fell on the weekend after Charlottesville. We gathered on Friday evening bringing our grief, confusion, and anguished questions. We were invited to carry it all into the experience that would follow and into this holy forest with its multitude of living beings and stony, root-crossed paths leading everywhere.
Storyteller Michael Meade is fond of reminding people that history is not outside of us. History is made in the depths of the human soul. If we long for healing for our nation and for restored balance in nature, the journey begins here. All around us the shining trees, the songsters, and the colorful inhabitants of this place are waiting, willing witnesses and guides for our first courageous and halting steps.
On the final morning of the retreat we gathered again, this time in the circle just outside the Meditation Shelter, under the trees and sky, beside the labyrinth made with stones chosen years ago from the field and streams of Rolling Ridge. The genius of this land, what draws us, is the deep grace of welcome and forgiveness and mercy that pervades it, the sense of being cradled in the wide lap of something or someone much older and more vast and loving than we can imagine. In that embrace even the loneliest sojourner can find solace and the will to reach out for their unique thread with which to re-weave the world.
As we drew our experience of the weekend to a close, one of us, Leah, was reminded of the timeless poem “Wild Geese”, by Mary Oliver and recited it, an anthem for the retreat, for Rolling Ridge, for the unfolding journey:
by Mary Oliver
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving over the landscapes, the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting—
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.