Last summer was a time of great transitions in my personal life and the conversations that led to the creation of this business, Wild Communion. The woodpecker had left my side, after 3+ years of almost constant companionship. His message to “keep moving, keep moving, you haven’t found “it” yet” as well as “quit banging your head against the same ideas, trying to make them work, when they won’t”, had shaped my will to continue to search for answers. I am sure he could have been saying more than that, but that is what I felt in my body about his presence. I listened to him at home daily. I listened as I traveled around the world, in every kind of forest, young or old, biodiverse or otherwise. It was an interesting thing to notice that when alone or when guiding, we were accompanied by the ever-present sound of woodpeckers.
Yes, it is possible that I simply started listening more acutely to the sounds of the forest. It is possible that I am just reading into things.But I don’t believe so..especially after last summer.
It was Mother’s Day when I knew that the marriage was over. Something just said, “it is time.” We had talked and talked about it, but never had come to agreement on the timing or whether it was truly necessary. But it was. Nearly a couple of months later I got brave enough to talk to my church leader about it all. I knew he would be compassionate and loving. He is just that kind of man. I was grateful to have him to tell…first. I was still too afraid to tell my friends or family. I didn’t know if I had the stamina to withstand any kind of attacks on my judgment, even though I knew in my body that it was right.
The bishop and I met on the trail. I tend to prefer that for every kind of conversation I have, especially the difficult ones. There is a support there that is so very present. The natural world always knows how to show up, doesn’t it? I explained the situation on the home front to him. He replied only with concern and love. What about the kids? How would I do financially? How would I finish school? There were many questions and no answers. But the knowing was strong and I felt he trusted my judgement. Carl Jung speaks these words about this kind of knowing: It is…
“a thinking from the intestines, from the depths as opposed to an academic intellect which is often empty and does not always agree with us…a knowledge that comes from the blood.”
I like this because even when my mind goes into fits about all the impossibilities of survival in this new state, I have the reassurance that the feeling in my gut mean something. It has told me when I am in harm’s way, but this time it was saying that this was right and good.
Returning to our cars, we walked the path back the way we had come. Suddenly, I heard a woodpecker call on the right. It wasn’t the red-bellied, the hairy or downy that I know so well. It was something I heard before but couldn’t quite place it. A scan of the trees revealed a glorious red crest; a Pileated woodpecker!
I was so surprised. It was early July in northern Indiana. Locally, I had only ever seen two of them; and always in the winter. I watched him-it was a him-and he swooped across our path as we stood still. Following his path, we saw him land on another snag on the left. And the chatter began. There were two others there, all of them having a conversation about something. I always like to imagine what they are talking about, but in this moment, I was too much in shock to imagine anything. I am sure I said something to my walking companion, but I don’t remember what that might have been. I got back in my car and drove home in a little bit of a trance. As I processed that experience over the days that followed, I came to know what it all meant.
The image came to mind of fireworks. They are beautiful and noisy, colorful and exciting. There is no getting around noticing them. What happens at the end? There is the finale, right? They come at you, over and over, louder than before, just inundating your senses, your sense of wonder and awe..your eyes open wider and you may even want to plug your ears. This is what those gorgeous Pileated woodpeckers were. They were the finale. They were saying to me, “you did it!”, “you did the hard work and didn’t settle”, “you can now relax a little.” How about that? I allowed those words to sink in and felt that, indeed, the natural world had given testimony to my actions. My mind and body were in sync and I felt witnessed like never before.
The hard times did not magically end there. They are still very present. I see this experience as an extraordinary gift in support of the first part of that transition.
Trail time so often eases difficult conversation. There is something about sharing a pace, a rhythm of walking, and how the experience of the trail attunes us with our companions, that makes it easier to find words. That’s how I see the walk you describe with your church leader. There is space for a gentleness and for listening. What you reveal in your account, something that perhaps many of us miss, is how the other beings contribute, almost like stage managers, to the setting of the conversation. The woodpeckers were there; and like you they too had a knowing. Part of which was this: that years of hard work and struggle eventually brings down the tree, and it is time to celebrate, no matter how many years went into the growing and tending and life of that tree. The way you experienced the raucous calls as equivalent to a fireworks finale is so inspiring. I’ve noticed this when you and I have shared trail time: how attuned you are to the many voices and textures of the place, how they speak to you. Having your story of receiving the speech of the woodpeckers inspires me to listen again to the forest. Thank you for this pointer to the wisdom we all carry in our bodies, if we but tune in to their many pulsing voices: “I know in my gut, that it is right and good.”