WALKING IN THE PRAIRIE
After hours of focused work, walking the linked pathways in the back prairie meadow behind Ragdale gives the senses a refreshing freedom from words. Here, as Virginia Woolf once said, “…there is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind.”
A snarl of trees borders the path, like the mussed up hair of a newly awakened old woman in early spring. Her palette is muted neutrals – birch white, silver grey, sepia and tawny beige with a hint of sage green. A shock of chartreuse, a haze of orange, a glaze of maroon, announce the upstart leafing of willow and maple. Amongst these stand the venerable hickorys with their thick hoary trunks and bark so shaggy and deep you can reach half your hand into their crevices.
This afternoon, it is all a spring symphony of birds – flutes and woodwinds – phoebe, robin, yellow flicker, red-headed woodpecker, cardinal, redwing blackbird and the far away whistle of a wide-winged hawk circling high in the sky over the open meadow. Helene Cixous says, “Writing is miraculous and terrifying like the flight of a bird who has no wings but flings itself out and only gets wings by flying.”
Invisible in their pond water conservatory, the alto and bass peeper chorale can be heard practicing their frog voices. My footsteps on the soft leaf litter and wood chip trail are inaudible to my ear, but the peepers go silent upon my approach, as if the director has brought her baton to a stop with a flourish.
A sudden glint of russet fur slips without a splash into the Skokie River and disappears. The meandering waterway is criss-crossed with bridges – wooden, swinging and cement.
Along with the bridges, you can come upon benches of varying age and construction, a traditional grey wooden seat with a memorial plaque or a silvering fat log that has been halved and smoothed for the purpose. The invitation to sit for a while is implicit in these humble pews. Take your ease, they say. And if you do, you will notice small wooden houses, simple as Shakers, posted on trees – human-built homes for the resident birds.
Buddhists practice both sitting and walking meditation as a path to awareness, and many writers have noted that writing and walking resemble each other. Writing is walking into silence, each word a footfall toward the next unfolding moment.
Rebecca Solnit in her book, Wanderlust: A History of Walking, writes: “Musing takes place in a kind of meadowlands of the imagination, a part of the imagination that has not yet been plowed, developed, or put to any immediately practical use…time spent there is not work time, yet without that time the mind becomes sterile, dull, domesticated.”