The cowboy-hatted stranger walked by me, huge dog panting by her side. I’d been looking around these towering, soft-barked sequoias for the barred owl I’d heard a few nights earlier. As she passed, she commented, “This is my favorite place in the park. It’s just special.”
For me, each season brings a new “special” part of the park, often one I’d overlooked before: the snag where the rufous hummingbird royally surveyed his territory last spring, the dark path that ran by the summer’s hawk nest, the little clearing with all the berries so loved by the late-season warblers.
Still, I knew what she meant. You come into this section of the park from the adjacent field, and there’s a kind of hush and a delicate deep-golden light you don’t find elsewhere. I want to remove my hat. I tell myself it’s so that I can hear better without the hat’s brim—the forest floor here has only sparse undergrowth and is deeply cushioned by a thick soft duff of conifer needles that seem to absorb faint bird sounds. And yes, it’s particularly dark in there, yet there are other forest trails equally shaded that don’t make me feel the same way.
The other day a second stranger, a tall, angular man this time, volunteered a similar comment about how he particularly loved this bit of forest trail. I began to really wonder just what it is about this particular place that evokes that sense of specialness.
Is it the cathedral shape of the tall trees with open space beneath? I think the evocation actually probably goes the other way: that cathedrals were designed to feel like forests rather than forests looking like churches. (Perhaps we should call them catreedrals instead.)
Maybe it’s that special light filtering through the dusty air in the reflected auburn glow of the carpet of needles. Or perhaps it’s the silent echo of the owl’s presence in this favorite haunt, the tiny invisible swirls of air stirred ever so slightly by those fringed feathers that let him swoop silently down on rodent prey.
If a butterfly’s wing-flap in Brazil can trigger a tornado in Texas, might not an owl’s eddies leave something ethereal, a trace of transcendence in their wake?
So many of us are drawn to nature for spiritual sustenance. Is it an intimacy with something greater than ourselves; wonder at the breathtaking complexity of the ancient earth; a sense of perspective that we humans are only a small part of it?
Whatever its wellspring, nature’s enchantment seems to be a pretty fundamental part of who we are. People of different cultures throughout the world have a sense of sacred groves. When we walk quietly through our own local sacred grove, attuned and aware and alive, we honor not only that special place, but also the sacred part of ourselves—and of human nature.
Where’s your sacred grove?