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The Stranger on the Path: The Sacred Mile Project in June

It's only a little woodland, just a few acres of trees, part of a larger public park in a prosaic suburb of Portland. The main trail loop is less than half a mile: hardly a place you could get lost in. Hardly a place, you might think, for anything very extraordinary to happen. Aren’t all the seekers jetting off to Thailand, India, Bali, etcetera, for a reason?


A brown rabbit surrounded by greenery with the words "The Stranger on the Path: The Sacred Mile Project in June"

Except. The Otherworld is here too.


On the summer solstice I went for a walk, around the block to the little nature park with the little woodland. The day was just beginning to warm, so the sun slanting through hte trees was welcome when I walked through it. As I rounded a curve in the path, I a big old yellow lab slowly emerged from the trees and shuffled over to me to say hello. Behind him, a woman stepped out of the trees, walking slowly and leaning heavily on a metal cane. She had long gray hair and a garish blouse in shades of purple and white. She carried a big, bright blue, cloth bag.


“Have you seen the rabbit?” she asked me.


It just so happened that I had seen a rabbit just moments before, at the edge of the trees, where a fence divided the park from a church parking lot. I pointed out the location.


“I have organic carrots for him,” she said, and started rummaging in her bag. Then: “Do me a favor. Put these under that big tree over there.”


And she filled my hands with peanuts, still in their shells.


Well.


When you meet an old woman on a path on the morning of the solstice, with the air full of birdsong and a whole woodland watching, you do as she asks. I placed the nuts at the feet of a towering Douglas fir and continued on my walk. 


Now. Obviously these events could all be very simply a random encounter with a quirky older woman and her dog. The morning provided an amusing anecdote about the people you meet when you wander your neighborhood. But there was a feeling about the encounter, something slightly surreal in the air. One friend said “it sounds like you’re describing a dream” when I told her about it. Another said “Did you just meet Baba Yaga?!” Another said “you’ve met your future self!” Or maybe I just met an old lady who likes to feed the animals in the park. Maybe on, some level, many of those theories are correct at the same time. Maybe none of them are. 


I’m beginning to think it’s best not to know. I don’t need to prove - or disprove - anything about the encounter. The beauty of the whole thing is in the ambiguity. It’s knowing that any time I step out my door I might encounter anything: a fellow eccentric making friends with squirrels, or a spirit or Deity in disguise, setting me a minor task to see what I’ll do. Everything is more than what it is: everything is also just as it seems. The Gods and spirits move in and out of the physical world, and often we brush up against them in shapes we wouldn’t expect. And while I say being kind is the best default setting, if you need a reason, let it be this: the stranger on the path could be a God in disguise, and They will remember how you respond to Them. 


This is what happens when you dig deep into your home soil. This is what happens when you look closer, and closer, and closer still, when you court the familiar like an ardent lover. This is why I started the Sacred Mile Project: to help myself, and anyone who wants to join me, in seeing “mundane” things through a new lens. Keep looking closer, and you pass through familiarity to a new strangeness, and find the mysteries here at home.


But you have to retrain your thinking. You have to be willing to accept that maybe, sometimes, the Otherworld puts on human shapes and wanders the public parks of suburbia with a cane and a fat, elderly yellow lab. You might have to let go of your categories and classifications of experience, and embrace ambiguity. When you do, you can see the everyday world as a mystery.


Sometimes a wild god comes to the table.

He is awkward and does not know the ways

Of porcelain, of fork and mustard and silver.

His voice makes vinegar from wine.


-Tom Hirons, "Sometimes a Wild God"


Image of a brown rabbit by Ali Kazal, courtesy of Unsplash


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30 views3 comments

3 opmerkingen


Gast
24 jun.

What a wonderful encounter! Thank you for sharing with us.

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Gast
21 jun.

Loved this, Michelle! I am that old woman, lol!

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Michelle
Michelle
21 jun.
Reageren op

I'm well on my way to being her myself!!! 😂

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Image by Annie Spratt

Michelle Simkins

polytheist . writer . maker . witch

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