I was walking in the woods in Northern Michigan looking for a quiet place to sit and be very Zen-like. I had recently started reading and studying about Zen and its benefits. My life was crazy at that time and I thought some Zen in my life might benefit my mind, body and soul. I craved stillness and a oneness with nature and the universe. Living in the city couldn’t produce that affect on me, even when sitting on my pillow, burning my candles, and listening to soft music playing in the background. I hadn’t reached that point in my Zen growth to drown out all the other noises of the city while I meditated. Frustrated, I took myself to Lake Leelanau, my childhood vacation spot.
I found my grandfather’s old place and checked it out. The new owners were gone, so for one day, I could again walk Gramp’s woods that met up with the lake I had swam in so many times as a kid. Taking in a deep breath, I smelled the scent of cedar. With my feet, I could feel the soft bed of needles the cedars had dropped over years and time. I walked along the banks edge and felt the cold water that splashed on my feet and then kissed the shoreline.
Walking a short distance, I came to Gramp’s waterwheel that he had installed some fifty years ago. It sill ran steady as the water from the stream fell down on its wheel and into the stream below. The stream was clear and cold. The bottom was still red clay. I reached down and scooped up the clay in my hand, closed my fingers around it, and smiled as I remembered how my cousin and I would make ashtrays and little people out of the natural earth. I put it in my backpack to take home. Perhaps it would help in my Zen room.
I was surprised how so little had changed since I was last there some twenty years ago. The smells andthe music of the birds and wildlife, were still there talking to me. After some walking further down, I found the place where I used to sit. It had been untouched. There was my tree stump I used for my resting spot. The only change was the soft green moss that now covered it like a duvet cover. I imagined that it was natures way of recovering my old favorite chair. I took a seat on its soft cushion and closed my eyes to open all my senses, my mind, and my heart.
Have you ever tried to count the notes in nature? Be still and you can hear the music. Each chirp, every swirl of the wind, and moaning of the tree branches, plays a symphony. Breathing in… breathing out…taking it all in to renew. Peace at last– my welcomed and missed guest! No need for meditation music playing in the background. Natures music is all I needed to calm and reflect.
A new note entered the symphony– a small, chirping, squeaking sound. It wasn’t a bird. I opened my eyes and saw I had a guest. A chipmunk sat next to me in silence. Most of the time chipmunks are cute little creatures that can melt your heart as you watch them take a nut in their little paws and nibble a bite of their favorite morning snack. They look at you with wide eyes, and quickly dash under or over branches or ground cover. They are quite skittish for the most part, and they run away so fast that you wonder where the little critter went. They are good hiders, and know how to be quiet. Not this one! He sat there wide-eyed and stared at me. He stood on his hind legs and squeaked while he looked in my direction. Slowly, I reached into my backpack to get out my trail mix. He didn’t move other than to follow my hand with his eyes. He stood there with an anticipatory look as I pulled out the snack.
I put a few nuts in my hand and offered him some. He looked at me, cocked his head, and then took the nuts in his small paws and quickly put them in his mouth. He went down on all fours again, and studied the bag I had on my lap. His little nose sniffed my leg and my hand. This discourse lasted for nearly an hour before he walked away towards the shoreline.
He led the way as I followed him. There, unattended, was a canoe that had not been there before. Its ruddy red sides showed signs of cracked paint and disrepair, but it wasn’t leaking. I knew it was sent for me–somehow, and from somewhere– for me to continue my quest for Zen.
The chipmunk stayed and watched as I got on the canoe and paddled away on the smooth water of Lake Leelanau. This memory is a gift that follows me anywhere I go. I only need to meditate on the chipmunk, the smells of the forest, the sounds of nature’s symphony, and the peace from that special place. I am there again, even in the city.