“Season” might actually be a verb. Here near the banks of the Potomac as it wends its way between Maryland and West Virginia, the trees put forth bright pinpricks of color on filagree branches; green shoots dance upward amid clumps of dried grass; sunlight sharpens and dances on the water; finches flit and vibrate yellowly; ephemeral pools sing at night. All this activity is happening without any human will, effort, or manufacture. A verb has no heft or edges or boundaries, no definitions, nothing to grab. I do not know when spring began springing nor when it will cross into summering. Much is simply beyond me.

Just as we were finishing the last to do items for the retreat we were to lead on the following weekend (“Singing the Trees: Reweaving Connections in Edge Times”) there was a widespread covid outbreak in the community where we live and breathe and eat and meet together daily. All three of us leaders were exposed, with no way of telling in time whether we had contracted the virus and would pass it to others. After battling the sea of risk analysis and chance for a very difficult 24 hours, we cancelled the retreat.

In the unanticipated hiatus that followed, as I and everyone around me slowed down and retreated inward or outward to the woods far from others, I turned to one of my favorite essays from one of the great soul-criers, Parker Palmer. The essay is “Seasons”.

Palmer begins with these much-needed words, "...life is neither a battlefield nor a game of chance, but something infinitely richer, more promising, more real."  

After acknowledging that the cycle of seasons is indeed something that lives and moves outside of what humans decide and make, he says that in surrendering to these things which are beyond us "we run headlong into our own egos, which desperately want to believe that we are always in charge."

Well, those words resonated poignantly with recent experience; I began thinking about humility. Wise ones have noted that the word humility rises from the same root as humus, the decaying plant matter that creates fertile soil. The connection felt redemptive to me: the giving up of the illusion of power and control can take one deep into grounded being, where desperate egos meet belonging, and something else in us is nourished and stirred to life.

Palmer writes: “… there is comfort as well as challenge in the metaphor of life as a cycle of seasons. Illumined by that image, we see that we are not alone in the universe. We are participants in a vast communion of being, and if we open ourselves to its guidance, we can learn anew how to live in this great and gracious community of truth."

Maybe I was drawn to read Parker Palmer’s essay again because we had wanted to weave this very insight of connection and communion into “Singing the Trees” through song, story, dance, and council. In these times of so much peril and possibility, perhaps the only way to navigate the edge we’re on is by listening with humility for wisdom and guidance far beyond what we think we already know.

Rebecca Solnit says that hope is an embrace of the unknown, the quality of acting from the ground of our being rather than our calculations of the future. In that humus anything can happen.

This morning, as I often do, I took a bike ride on the path that runs through the long, narrow wilderness next to the Potomac. I go to be with the trees, the river, the stone cliff that rises from the ancient earth. I go in all seasons, nearly every day, in almost any weather, to assure myself that all, and everyone, is still there. This morning the verb that is spring was in glorious uncontrollable force.  

As I rounded a shallow curve, a large bird flew across the path and came to rest on the slender branch of young tree. Wide wings, mottled brown and white feathers, round head: a barred owl. The owl settled and regarded me steadily with two dark eyes, occasionally blinking. After a while, the owl turned her head, peered toward the ground, looked in an arc all around; went back to considering me. I think we could have stayed for hours. In the end, it was I who moved on.

The storyteller Michael Meade says that old stories are full of eternal presences trying to break through. Well, perhaps not only in stories for those who have been humbled to see. What came to mind as I bade farewell to the owl was the lines from Emily Dickinson, “‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers – That perches in the soul-”