Earth Notes: Walkabouts

By Jen Deraspe

I write from Venice, a beach town in southern California. I sit in the sand with the gulls, sandpipers and pelicans nearby as the waves roll in steadily. Distant sailboats and fishing vessels dot the horizon.

The human race seems so drawn to the sea, lured by its lulling sounds, salty, damp air and meditative rhythms. What draws me here is the vast spaciousness. There is something simple here, unadulterated. This helps me to simplify my perspective.

Speaking of perspectives, one time I was invited to a “walkabout.” A walkabout refers to the aboriginal custom in Australia where a man breaks off from the daily grind and walks in solitude across desert and bush country on a spiritual quest. The distance covered on a walkabout may exceed 1,000 miles, done without aid of compass or radio. The walker finds his way, it is believed, under the guidance of a spiritual power.

I was preparing for a vision quest in Death Valley, where I would spend four days and nights alone in the desert fasting and sitting. A daylong walkabout was to help with readiness for that quest. I would wander from dawn to dusk with no agenda, no particular direction, no place to go nor a time to get there. Basically, it was an exercise of presence and adventure to be led.

It was wintertime and the lakes and bogs were frozen. I awoke before sunrise, put on my favorite wool layers and boots, packed a lunch and out the cabin door I went, following the terrain on and around Pleasant Mountain. The lay of the land led me down to the lowlands as I wandered from tree to boulder to swamp, noticing what pulled me in any one direction or another, pausing often to take it in. I appreciated not leading, just wandering, being led.

Eventually, I found myself on Pleasant Pond, having followed the bog in. To be walking on the water’s surface I had previously paddled was an appreciated perspective.

There was a beaver lodge at the edge of the waterway, where the pond meets the bog, a cone shaped mound covered in snow. The freshly chewed branches and alder tree trunks were evidence that is was an active lodge where a family was living. I walked quietly toward the lodge, watching intently.

I had been curious about these animals all my life, having tromped and paddled past countless beaver dams and lodges. I had never taken the time to sit long enough to see them in their day-to-day life. This day had arrived and I was excited with anticipation.

I sat out on a crusty mound of snow a comfortable distance away from the lodge where I could still see clearly and not disturb the beavers from their doings. Pouring a cup of tea, I watched and waited. The sun felt good as it rose up over the mountain. The sky was robin’s egg blue. I waited some more.

Then there it was…a brown, smooth head rose up out of an opening in the ice. It scooped itself up onto the ice. Just behind was its mate. Their dark, silvery fir was glistening in the bright morning sun.

I observed them for hours, snacking on twigs, preening and sun bathing. Beavers have a reputation as hard workers, always on the go. This work ethic was not evident. It seems they also balance it out with rest, play, self-care, snacking and naps — a great motto for living, really.

My mind returns to the immediate…I watch the flock of gulls resting in the sand. There are about a hundred of them, most are still, looking out to sea. I wonder what they are contemplating. Gull thoughts. Or perhaps nothing at all, just enjoying the sand, the surf, the sun and being what they are. Or is that me?

Jen Deraspe, founder of Nurture Through Nature eco-retreat center in Denmark, is experimenting with bi-coastal living and calls her home the base of Pleasant Mountain. For more information:

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