I remember, when I was first exploring druidry, that many authors I respected and learned much from wrote reverently about the importance of learning and knowing the local ecosystems. I agreed in principle, but what a tall order! I’ve always loved nature, but I’d never made a concerted study, and as a young man I’d moved a thousand miles from home, where I still am. It seemed like too much, too high a barrier on top of learning a whole new way of prayer and worship, so I didn’t bother.
But I still found myself out in nature, as a pedestrian commuter. And as I walked and rewalked the same paths, revisiting the same sites both purposefully and incidentally, I found myself creating small rituals. As I cross the bridge over the Glen Echo Run while walking into work, I pour out an offering from my water bottle, water returning to water along with my prayers. Whenever I pass through the Schiermeier Wetland Research Park, where the greenway trail cuts across a bend in the Olentangy River, I turn off my music or podcasts and sing a chant to myself as I make the crossing, an act of devotion and a surprising bit of endurance across the half-mile or so portion of the trip. In the park just north of the wetlands, I go to the top of the big hill there, where one cold January day I first tramped up with a blanket and a heavy coat to sit at the high places and ask the gods to receive me, and I pour out thanks to Lugh of the High Places, who first heard me and directed me to his brethren who I still hold dear. And on the city streets a mile north of my house, I often pass by my grandparent Locust, the first of the nature spirits to call to me, who later gifted me a branch in a storm, whose wood now holds my ogham.
These walks, taken for my commute, for my exercise, for my pleasure, have become pilgrimages. They aren’t big productions; this is no Camino de Santiago, no Canterbury Tales. But in reinscribing my footsteps on the land, I reinscribe my relationship to it and to those I’ve met along the way. The paths I walk become sacred by the walking, marked out — if only for me — as different and special, each rewalking a renewal and a reminder of the connections that hold me to mine.
And as I’ve walked, I’ve learned. I wasn’t prepared to take on the entirety of the ecology of Central Ohio before walking this path, but neither was I incurious. As I walk, I find myself wondering: what is that tree with the lovely leaves? What is that bird that calls? What’s the source of this water I’m dipping my tired feet in? And because I carry a tiny computer in my pocket, I can look it up! And I do. I often forget, but eventually, through repeated exposure, I remember. And so too do I learn the patterns of these newly-named acquaintances: the pawpaws grow at a certain part of the river trail, but not another. The swallows particularly like that kind of roof overhang. The river looks this way in spring, but this way in autumn. The deer often hang around that bend in the ravine road. It’s not scientific knowledge as such, but it is hyperlocal lived knowledge of the very specific place I find myself, and as I gain that knowledge — slowly, gradually — I pull closer to the species I observe and to the land they live in, the land I live in. I become ever more a thoughtful and mindful inhabitant of my small patch of earth, my home.
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Header image: the author’s setup at the edge of Adena Brook, in Columbus, Ohio’s Overbrook Ravine, where this post was mostly written.