Sometimes, honoring the nature spirits can seem like a chore. In the winter, one must don warm clothing and boots. In the summer, it’s long pants and sweatshirts – despite the heat – to combat mosquitos. Streams of sweat will run down your body as you make the trek to the shrines because you built them away from prying eyes. Sometimes you have to go in the rain or snow. You may step in a puddle of mud which splatters into your face. You may pass through tall plants and cringe, hoping a tick doesn’t land on you. No matter what you wear, some mosquitos will find a nice patch of flesh. Today, one bit my fingertip.
Yet this is worth it. It is a sacrifice necessary to gain the trust and wisdom of the wild spirits.
The more I go, the better in touch I get with Deer Spirit. I move more gracefully and silently across the twigs, old leaves, and mossy stones. This way of movement is mastered through practice, The birds seem less wary of me. Perhaps they recognize my scent from the offerings? The chickadees, who are generally very brave and curious song birds, seem to follow me to the shrine. A white-chested nuthatch let me watch him closely.
When I speak to the spirits, I feel more confident yet humble. The mosquitos make sure you feel humble. I greeted the shagbark hickory I identified last week and thanked it for that lesson. I gladly accepted the gift of a fallen ash branch and thanked the tree. I stooped to admire minuscule mushrooms and tiny bones.
The ridge is one of my favorite places in the forest. It feels like a crossroads, of sorts. One must travel upward, gradually moving away from the comfort of home. From the ridge one looks down into the thick forest where I encounter more wildlife. It was there that I’ve chanced on pheasants, hawks, owl pellets, a porcupine, the largest tracks, and the most skeletons. Today, as I stood silently, a flock of turkey hens with their poults. Either they didn’t notice me or they weren’t bothered. Either way, I am always happy not to disturb the wildlife. The little ones are so adorable. I chuckled to myself as some decided to jump over a log like their mothers while others opted to duck and crawl under. They make gentle clucking noises. I silently watched until the clucking vanished in the distance.
Gifts like that make my offerings to the mosquitos worth it.