[Essay] Excursions: November by Clint Stevens

This piece is part of the Excursions series.

“A fish swims in the ocean, and no matter how far it swims, there is no end to the water. A bird flies in the sky, and no matter how far it flies, there is no end to the air.” –Dogen, “Actualizing the Fundamental Point” 

Sometimes in the morning I walk around our field. Sometimes I wake early and walk while the stars are still in the black sky, and as I walk they fade into the gray of first-light. On the next pass, the morning star alone lingers in the early purples and pinks of morning. On the next, the earliest of daylight blue. Each lap is a new world.  

Other times I walk in the woods, and as the changing lights of sunrise, so the seasons in the woods. These same woods are a new world in each season. Spring is the newly green. Summer, that same green flourishing. Fall is a cool, golden world. And winter, quickly approaching, is the beauty of gray and brown unadorned. Sometimes I walk far in each of these worlds. Other times, very slowly here and there. One sees much in long walks, but one can see just as much by slowing down and looking more closely.  

In Mammal Tracks & Signs, Mark Elbroch suggests training your eyes and mind to slow down and observe more carefully by choosing a small section of ground in the woods, about a foot across, to study intently until you find an animal hair. Looking slowly and carefully at a tiny piece of the earth, you see how it goes on and on. Maple, oak, sycamore leaves. Pebbles, strands of white mycorrhizae, tiny green shoots hidden in the duff. Newly fallen leaves, old leaves, fragments of leaves, soil, clay.  Pill bugs, earthworms, spiders, alterations in sun and shade and moisture. Somewhere in that labyrinth is a hair. It can be found in seconds or ten or fifteen minutes. You just have to look. Look closely. In the slow endless time and small endless space of the present moment, you realize boundlessness. There is a whole world on the tip of a leg of a millipede.

Dogen continues in the passage quoted above, “When their activity is large, their field is large. When their need is small, their field is small. Thus, each of them totally covers its full range, and each of them totally experiences its realm.” So it is. The world has no end, so no matter how far you walk, a thousand steps is no closer, no farther away than the first. Each is the totality. Each step is the Way. Dwelling in endlessness, everywhere is here. Everywhere is the other shore. Right here. Each moment extends forever.

All things preach this. Listen to the chickadee. This is what she preaches.

About the Author
Clint Stevens lives and writes outside of Centralia, IL.

Click here to read more of the Excursions series and check back as more installments are released monthly.

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