In his book on nature-poor upbringings, “Last Child in the Woods,” author Richard Louv writes:
“Studies show almost to a person that people with an environmental consciousness had a transcendent experience when they were kids.”
Well, I sure did! Once. Twice. Ultimately, any, many times, as I got used to what being outside involved and how to get along with the little bit of nature where I found myself.
Partly, I built up some skills for moving and not moving and breathing and not breathing so much and watching and listening and keeping attentive to what's happening or likely to happen around me. Partly, I felt the land and what lived on the land around me and how it moved or flowed or rose or fell or changed appearance or turned something up while I was occupied with other tasks. Partly, I learned how, sometimes, in the natural world, to shut up and listen, listen deep inside with serious quiet, the kind of quiet that goes along with awe, reverence, connectedness, vital energies, and inspiration.
I loved--loved--the out-of-doors and doing things, discovering things, in nature. And I liked to imagine that nature, just a little, loved me back. Mostly in the way that nature does let you live, in spite of all the mistakes, slips, falls, failures to notice when you ought to's, and errors of judgment you make.
My earliest connections to magic, to living in a magical world, to experiencing magical awareness, were forged out of doors. Almost all of them involved--powerfully and directly--other living things, not human, but not visionary or spirit-presences, either.
Experiences like looking eye to eye with a real live bobcat. Like wandering through coastal redwood groves and standing within the decaying but probably still possessing a glow of life stumps of sawed down trees. Like watching a raven eat the eyeball of a dead lamb. Like trolling for salmon off the Northern California coast on a gray day and seeing, in a moment, a shark, probably a great white, appear, most of its body above the waves. then just disappear. Like being stuck very near the top of a 50-60 foot high beachside cliff, holding for dear life on to a plant, hoping its roots were tenacious enough to bear my weight until a helpful hand reached down.
In my backyard grew four trees. A kumquat, a pomegranate, a fig, and an almond. In kind of a big semicircle around the edge of the yard. I learned to tell the seasons by these trees and when they fruited, from almond blossoms buzzing with bees in the Spring, through fig and kumquat in the Summer, to pomegranates around Halloween. This little tree cycle offered me a measure of time rooted in living things, different and far more fragrant and, if you liked the fruits and nuts, tasty than the conventional calendar.
The Northern California coast, the surf, enthralled me. Standing on a sandy or pebbly beach, the breakers towered over my head. They crested green, blue, white. They broke and rushed in, in, up, up the beach toward me, promising to take me if they could--beautiful, beckoning, and foaming with peril. I felt the breaking waves move, and I felt them move me, way down inside, with a power and rhythm that I could not, because it was so immensely greater and beyond me, comprehend. Here, on this little patch of beach, was me. The waves breaking in the surf came from everywhere on Earth.
Surf on the sandy beaches was enticing, yet dangerous. Surf on the rocky, rough coast was glorious, magnificent, inspiring, fixating of full attention--and lethal. One wave that looked so quiet in the distance, rising and falling, could rear up in a flash, high and roiling to haul you in, away, never to draw breath again.
And there, in those waves, that surf, things lived. Worms, fish, sea anemones, sea plants that held fast, clams, mussels, shore birds that dived into the waves or ran along the upcoming and falling back water's edge, gleaning their prey. Wave battered, sturdy, daring life.
I felt that I, and all the rest of us humans, were part of all this, but probably the most clueless part. We, after all, pillaged it. Plundered it. Polluted it. Poured our refuse and rot into it. Cared so little for it that we would only preserve it when a profit might be had. Not because we realized that all that it was and could be had value in itself. Not because we understood that we were here, part of it all, not separate and apart from Nature like we kept, crazy for the stuff that goes solely with people, telling ourselves.
Some evenings, I stood on one of the beaches and watched the sun go down. On a few occasions, when conditions were right, the setting sun flashed brilliant green for a second or two. In this green flash, and from it, I sensed that here was a chance of magic, for magic. Later, I did some, and shared it.
Reviewing my early transcendental experiences out of doors, it may appear that all of them were. That's not so. Most of my time passed in nature was just plain, ordinary fooling around, messing with this or that, hiking here to see a pretty place or a sit around with friends. The sort of time that, as you have more and more of it to enjoy, if only in recollection, takes you into nature from anywhere and allows you to be there.
Growing older, if no wiser, I have come to realize that, while there are a number of reasons I've become a Neo-Pagan Crafter and remained one, the most important reason involves how I connected to the out of doors and what lives there and what that connection has brought me, taught me.
The Earth, the planet whole and entire, lives. Living, the Earth provides energies both plain and subtle, energies that we, as living beings may access, direct, and use. We may, by learning to enhance our connectedness to the Earth, become more skillful in how we use these energies, and why, and what we do in using them. We may grow Crafty in our magic, because using these energies is, the way we see it, doing magic. And magic, in the doing and what comes after, carries us to places and to insights and to connectedness and to stillness and to lusty warmheartedness that we wouldn't suspect beforehand, but would never abandon after.