ONE AUTUMN'S DAY I STOPPED AND SAT
One autumn's day I stopped and sat
under the boughs of a withering tree:
weary I was, of sadness too plenty;
solace I sought in peaceful surrender.
My eyes wandered to grey clouds above,
to leaves nearer by tinged yellow and brown,
When out on a branch a chipmunk darted
and stopped of a sudden to stare at me.
Utterly still he sat on his haunches;
his bright, slanted face was hard and unyielding.
I closed my eyes – still he stared:
his eyes were fathomless and black.
Recognition unfolded inside me.
O voiceless muse, nature's automaton,
that tiny buddha knew his unknowing;
and in his unknowing he unknew me.
I opened my eyes – still he stared;
then chirped at me once and darted away.
One day last winter as I was walking through the woods over at the
cemetery I saw a chipmunk dart into a hollow tree. I assumed
that he had made his home in there, or had at any rate made the
opening to his burrow inside the trunk. The next time I went
into the woods I brought along a couple of nuts from a bag I'd bought
for myself to eat and placed these inside the tree. I checked
the next day: they were gone. Throughout the winter,
summer, and into the fall I continued to place nuts inside this
tree; also I've spied out a number of other chipmunk holes in
the cemetery and woods, and have often thrown a nut or two down
these as well. What began as a whim soon turned into
something more: it gradually became a way of "honoring"
nature, my token gift of nuts taking on the connotations of a votive
offering. Slowly I became aware that I was seeking to formulate
a more specific relationship with nature via these gifts to the
chipmunks, though what expectations I held for that relationship
I could not precisely say. It's as if some new intention was
taking shape because of my actions and through my actions,
but without any foreknowledge or conscious design on my part.
I have read of Native Americans using animals as spirit guides, and
know this to represent a manner of thinking common to many
indigenous peoples before "civilization" destroyed their
cultures. Was this, then, what I was asking the chipmunk to be for
me – a spiritual guide? But why the chipmunk, of all
possible creatures? Perhaps it's because, like them, I am both
nervous and nervy; quick witted, but also temperamental. At
any rate, I began to feel that a kind of affinity existed between
us, and what the recognition of that affinity might portend no longer
really mattered; all that mattered was the recognition itself.
Today, however, as I gazed into the eyes of a chipmunk, I understood
that what I had thought was affinity was actually something
more. That chipmunk, I saw, was one of the gatekeepers to
a knowledge that I myself am only beginning to be able to comprehend.
I can claim to have grasped only one basic premise necessary
for its accomplishment: that it is a matter not
so much of doing, but of not-doing – of
not-knowing. This much at least I think I
have understood of what the eyes of nature have to teach me . . .