We are hiking an unfamiliar trail on the banks of the Metolius River. This particular route exhibits lots of texture as it meanders over and through broken remnants of an ancient basalt flow. The black rock formations hug the river, forcing it to edge toward the ‘softer’ bank on the other side. Dark boulders also provide a stark contrast to crimson leaves of vine maple as they paint the vibrant hues of autumn. Everything is framed between stone and river, between a hard place and a flowing place. 

In some places the flow of the river slows down and quiet crystalline pools provide a view of spawning fish. Kokanee salmon are beginning their fall ritual, cloaked in bright red indicating the end of one life and the beginning of the next generation. A female swishes her tail to create a pocket in which to lay her eggs. Males hover, awaiting their invitation to fertilize. I wonder if they have any awareness of these human bipeds observing their primal rite. I doubt it. The ritual of a life cycle is all that matters in this moment. 

Water bathes the action in moisture. An occasional eddy swirls on the surface, painting a moment of contrast in the quiet pool. Ripples and eddies, life and death, places to go wild and places to retreat. My attention is drawn away from the fish to a silvered decaying log near the trail. It seems to mirror the patterns in the river. Blue-green lichen echos the turbulence and meandering wood grain flows like a river. Tree and river are inseparable.

Nearby, an old growth Ponderosa pine towers over the scene. Bark patterns of the living tree evoke an image of the steam basin as from a bird’s eye view. Canyons and other landforms seem carved into the trunk—another expression of sameness. My mind falls silent and merges into the dance of trees and flow, earth and water. 

Henry David Thoreau wrote, “In wildness is the preservation of the world.” Maybe he meant, “With awareness, we recognize the inseparability of mind and nature—and that is the healing of the world.”

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