A Walk With a Purpose
A gathering of souls on a mild September day, to venture along the Dess Way, was well worth the hours of our lives we dedicated to this purpose. This walk was part of the Science and Theology Project; however, there was a sense of pilgrimage as well-a desire to awaken ourselves to God’s presence. We made up a group representing at least six different churches! Our Spiritual needs were tended to with scriptural readings prepared by David Atkinson. Our souls were refreshed by breathing in the fresh air and glorious surroundings of creation. Our curious minds were stimulated with philosophical readings and enlightening talks by our nature guide Aileen Salway.
At each pause in the walk, there were reflective readings and corresponding discussions: the first of which was a thought-provoking reading of Satish Kumar – a former monk – sharing his thoughts about living life without all our “stuff” and seeking a simpler way to conduct ourselves, minus the trappings; questioning, ‘Do we need a modern world to live happily-peacefully?’ Satish Kumar is recognised for setting off on a peace walk to the four corners of the nuclear world – Washington, London, Paris and Moscow – as an act of protest and non-violence. Also, at this first stop called ‘the crossroads’, we watched as our guide David Atkinson attentively swept his arm wide, surveying the surroundings: the mountains, the pathways, the sunshine, the pastures, the trees, and the far reaching horizon from land to blue sky- God’s incredible creation! This, for mankind to perpetuate. This for us to consider before our want of mass production and ready-made comforts.
We carried on and found many delights along the way. One, unexpectedly, was for the discovery of an Aspen tree. This tree is not native to Scotland. The foliage turns to a bright golden hue in autumn. We watched the small rounded leaves shake gently with the breeze, making a light pleasant rattling sound from which the nickname of ‘Quaking Aspens’ is given to it. One of the group, Michael Price, began quoting a poem which sprang from an earlier memory:
The men that live in West England
They see the Severn strong,
A-rolling on rough water brown
Light aspen leaves along.
They have the secret of the Rocks,
And the oldest kind of song.
Another delight that greeted us was the welcoming, vibrantly coloured, orange-peel fungus. Our nature guide explained that the fungus begins as an orb shape and as the wind, rain and nosy creatures play at it, it unfolds – so to speak – into what looks like a peeled clementine! We were informed that they are edible, but maybe we should not take our chances as they have left some curious epicureans with distressing tummy-aches. The third surprise, a tiny frog, hopped across our path, but not before we scooped it up to take a closer inspection. Next, there was comment on the ubiquitous Yarrow-or Achellia which is known for its astringent effect: it was said that it was named for the mythical Greek character Achilles. Achilles reportedly carried it with him in battle to use medicinally for his army.
Along the uneven pathway, it occurred to me, there can be found metaphors of life: in the ruts and rocks and the many tree roots protruding in the lane as well as the little trenches carved by diverted waterways. ‘Life is not without without obstacles,’ the path seemed to remind us. Although we were carrying on conversations or walking alone in contemplation, we were (perhaps unconsciously) taking care not to slip or tumble over the numerous ‘obstacles’.
We came to a gateway, of sorts, whereby David Atkinson shared a solemn proverb with us concerning Wisdom:
Out in the open wisdom calls aloud,
she raises her voice in the public square;
on top of the wall she cries out,
at the city gate she makes her speech:
“How long will you who are simple love your simple ways?
How long will mockers delight in mockery
and fools hate knowledge?
Repent at my rebuke!
Then I will pour out my thoughts to you,
I will make known to you my teachings.
But since you refuse to listen when I call
and no one pays attention when I stretch out my hand,
since you disregard all my advice
and do not accept my rebuke,
I in turn will laugh when disaster strikes you;
I will mock when calamity overtakes you—
when calamity overtakes you like a storm,
when disaster sweeps over you like a whirlwind,
when distress and trouble overwhelm you.
“Then they will call to me but I will not answer;
they will look for me but will not find me,
since they hated knowledge
and did not choose to fear the Lord.
Since they would not accept my advice
and spurned my rebuke,
they will eat the fruit of their ways
and be filled with the fruit of their schemes.
For the waywardness of the simple will kill them,
and the complacency of fools will destroy them;
but whoever listens to me will live in safety
and be at ease, without fear of harm.”
Our journey led us from open farm land shielded by distant mountains to an undulating walk through forest woods. The shade was refreshing, or could have been if the midgies would have allowed us all to pass toll-free (I am sure the tiny frog will have noticed them). The forest began with a gateway bordered by an old stone wall left, through the passing of time and weather, still intact. Just inside the gate was a pretty bench from a sawed tree trunk. Here, Richard Murray commented:
‘I remember coming through the gate thinking that in a way we were leaving the world behind and the well chosen location of the seat with its lovely view seemed to invite the opportunity to sit and unravel one’s thoughts and enjoy a time of quiet disengagement from life’s ‘soap opera’. I’m a great fan of Annie Dillard’s book ‘Pilgrim at Tinker Creek’ that she wrote about when she became a ‘desert solitaire’ in the valley of the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia chronicling her encounter with nature. I find when walking and birdwatching that sometimes small things I notice have an involuntary effect of making me forget. It was notable how many of us became engrossed in different lichens, the caterpillar and so on.
Thus, we were treated to expertise on mosses by Don French. He carried with him a tiny looking-glass which he used to the differing qualities of neighboring mosses. He explained that one particular moss contained exact mirrors of the initial moss that began. Each successful growth then is also an exact mirror of the original part of the plant.
Hylocomium splendens (in this pic you can see this year’s young branches, not yet fully ‘feathery’, sprouting off the backs of last year’s (browner-looking, more feathery) fronds)
Polytrichum commune (topleft wet shoots with spore capsules, topright shoot tips with ‘flowers’, bottom drying shoots, leaves almost closed up)
Some of the many colour and shape variations in Sphagnum
We didn’t see this one – Funaria hygrometrica – but it’s not all that rare, and I think I mentioned it because of its spore capsules, which are so made that they only open to release the spores when the humidity is just right – hence the ‘hygrometrica’. Actual size about 2cm high (including the capsule).
We finished the walk with a thoughtful reading from the Bible as well as another reading from Satish Kumar, and then we all rested and had tea and cake at the Deeside Activity Centre where we were joined by some who could not manage the trek. In consideration: the conversations along our journey, hearing the Word of God and reflecting on His Wisdom, the discoveries in nature, the experience of living in the moment-shedding burdens, the sense of safety and goodwill amonst the group, and the opportunity to just consider a little part of our world, brought respite for the heavy laden, stimulation for the intellect, and exercise for the body; A Walk With a Purpose !