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Sabbath Day: Read Globally, Walk Locally

June 11, 2016

(My Sabbath post from this past Thursday)

“Read Globally, Walk Locally”

I came upon this epitaph in an essay about Thoreau. It’s a good summary of this naturalist’s life. It is also a fitting CODA to my last year of using my sabbath days to intentionally read multi-national literature, and serves well as a transition for my return to regular hiking. My survey of world literature affected me deeply. I am grateful for the perspectives and sympathies evoked by the diverse voices and narratives I encountered. It has left me much to think about as I hike. (And I will someday finish my reading log).

Yet, I was unable to travel to a trail today. Instead, I stayed as local possible. As local as the trees right outside my window. It was a beautiful day.

A good deal of the day was spent reading: on my balcony, on my front lawn, at a coffee shop, by my window, waiting for the laundry. The walks I took were to get a haircut, visit the library, sit in a park. Most of my day was spent with the just released new book by Wendell Berry, A Small Porch: Sabbath Poems 2014-2105. For decades, Berry has spent his sabbath days walking the land around his Kentucky home, and occasionally producing a poem. The poems in this volume were written from his porch: an acknowledgment, I believe, of his age.

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The  poems are accompanied by an essay titled The Presence of Nature in the Natural World: A Long Conversation in which Berry traces the books and voices that have been in conversation in “the little town of my mind.” The latter is a phrase borrowed by the twelfth century theologian and poet, Alan de Lille, and the essay ranged from the twelfth century through Chaucer, Spencer, Pope, and Milton to more contemporary agrarian writing. I spent most of my day reading and reading this essay. I was completely absorbed because these authors formed, in retrospect, a syllabus I had created for myself while working on my (incomplete) doctoral dissertation on agricultural imagery in late medieval preaching. I still have collections of Alan’s sermons. Berry’s essay traces through these and other writings a naturalist tradition that I had been searching for in the archive of medieval preaching. I felt quite at home while reading.

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My other “local walks” were to the dozen or so trees I can see from my apartment window. I have been reading the magnificent Seeing Trees: Discover the Extraordinary Secrets of Everyday Trees by Nancy Ross Hugo with photographs by Robert Llewellyn. For several years I have desired to learn to see each individual tree as unique and diverse, but have yet to spend this time either studying tree identification or studying the actual lives of trees I see everyday. This book provides a week’s worth on insight on every page. Today I began visiting my arboreal neighbors, greeting them, and, in some cases, naming them. I have collected leaves from May, Red, Dawg, and Bea. I taught a child the difference between a dogwood’s flowers and the specialized white leaves that are often confused for flowers. I started a tree observation journal. I plan to spend at least as much time with these near neighbors this year as I do on the trail.

Overall, a satisfying, if quiet, day. It held illness at bay, and absorbed grief. Restored, I return to my ministry.

 

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