It's Enough to be Invited In: Animism, Agency, and Expectation

It’s just a little pocket of a park, tucked between some houses and a middle school, kind of hard to find unless you spot it on a map and have the persistence to keep circling until you find a way in, and the courage to risk freaking out your neighbors while you search for it. (You either have to cut through a middle school parking lot, OR find the narrow dead end street at the west end of the park. There’s no other way in if you don’t want to climb a fence.)

A group of trees with their trunks growing together, and the words "It's Enough to be Invited In: Animism, Agency, and Expectation.

It is mostly unaltered by people. There’s a bench on one side, and a garbage can on another. The parks department has it mowed a few times a year. This spring, someone planted a few saplings in an open area. But for the most part it’s just a bit of grass with several big old trees in a clump at the middle, and one weirdly straight line of red cedars and horse chestnuts at the west end of the park. There are no paths, play structures, or picnic tables to draw in visitors. Whether the absence of people allows the place to be a bit strange, or the strangeness keeps the people away, I don’t know; but it IS strange, always a bit dreamy, with trees that grow in unusual shapes and clump together to form bulbous spaces between their trunks. Spaces that, I swear, could lead ELSEWHERE if approached in the right manner at the right time.

Half of an empty horse chestnut shell with green spikes resting on a bed of pine needles.

I don’t go there very often. Most days the park is a bit self-contained, wrapped up in its own business, muttering slow tree thoughts to itself. But every once in a while I get this itch that starts between my shoulder blades and slowly spreads through my torso, and then this irresistible tugging in my gut that pulls me toward it.


On some of those days, the park has something for me to do. Once I found a tiny pile of bones, stripped clean of flesh and fur, pressed into the mud. They wanted a new resting place, somewhere out of the way of trampling feet. I tucked them into the hollowed out base of a family of trees, where minuscule mushrooms clung to the tree bark like a miniature village clinging to a mountainside. That day I was allowed a gift: the tiny, sharp toothed jawbone of the creature I was moving to a new resting place. They live in a little birch house in my studio now, and sometimes we talk. Mostly, they just rest there.


A collection of tiny bones resting on a woman's palm

Most days, however, the call to visit isn’t accompanied by a bunch of presents from the earth.


It’s easy for those of us who were raised in the United States in the 20th and 21st centuries to carry within us an unrecognized sense of entitlement to the treasures of the land. Easy to believe, when we make the shift from Christian culture to some kind of earth based religion, that our “reverence” for the earth will be rewarded with gift after gift. Easy for every venture outdoors to become a sort of hybrid between a shopping trip and a treasure hunt, and to believe this is perfectly acceptable because it’s spiritual. I don’t think this is because we are all greedy, selfish brats: I think it’s because we grew up in a culture saturated with the very Christian idea that the earth was made for humans, that humans are the top of the food chain, the pinnacle of creation, and therefore we have a right to anything we see that doesn’t “belong” to another human. Add capitalism to this mix, which teaches us that all things are a resource for extracting, and that entitlement gets cemented ever deeper in our being.


It’s so much harder to go out into the world without expectation. Harder to approach all the beings around us as people with agency and value beyond our use for them.


Tiny beige mushrooms growing from a dark brown tree trunk

Harder, but oh so much more beautiful.


In a world full of beings rather than things, we are never alone. We live in relationship and reciprocity every moment, if we can train ourselves to recognize it.

The base of a tree with a hollow between the roots. The hollow looks a little bit like a mouth with jagged teeth.

When we let go of expectation, we don’t need every walk to be an epic spiritual experience (though some will be). Every walk can, instead, be a visit with our many friends and neighbors. A chance to appreciate the found still life of moss and twigs that will be different tomorrow, even more different in a week, and probably gone forever in a month, replaced by another enchanting composition of fallen beauties. A chance to say hello and feel love for the lives near us without needing to take anything from them.

And once we are able to let go of our expectations, when gifts are offered to us, we appreciate them for the precious treasures they are. When we stop expecting it to be all about us, all the time, we begin to recognize the generosity of the land and all the beings who live there. And that generosity teaches us how to be generous in turn, to give back to the land with our love and whatever acts of care we are capable of performing.

The winged seed of a bigleaf maple resting on a woman's palm.

Bringing this all back to the hidden park in my neighborhood, most days I don’t understand the reason for that unexpected pull, and that’s okay. I like to think the park and the trees who live there just want to hang out with me for a little bit, but I can’t be sure. Just being invited in is a privilege I don’t take lightly. On those days I might touch the trees, might pick up treasures from the ground, but I don’t take them home. I place them back where I found them and thank them for letting me handle them. And of course I take lots of pictures. And that’s more than enough.


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Image by Annie Spratt

Michelle Simkins

polytheist . writer . maker . witch