I’ve always been fascinated by words. From childhood I’ve loved reading and writing, and my adult working life has been specifically focused on words as a medical transcriptionist/editor. We pantheists periodically have discussions about the language we use; we know words matter. While some of us have repurposed words from our past or normal societal use, finding ways to incorporate them into our pantheistic lives, others completely avoid anything with religious overtones such as God, spiritual, holy, sacred. A member of the Universal Pantheist Society Facebook group recently shared an original poem including the word ‘sacred’ with respect to Nature. Someone said just omit that word. My response was to write from your heart. If it has meaning to you, then use it. Consulting several dictionaries confirmed that while ‘sacred’ is often used in more traditional “mainstream” religions, it’s certainly not exclusive to them. It also simply means worthy of reverence and awe. If Nature doesn’t fit that definition, I don’t know what does.
I also enjoy learning interesting, lovely new words related to the natural world; for example, psithurism is the sound of wind in trees, and petrichor, the smell of rain. A nemophilist is one who loves the beauty of forests, and Yugen is profound awareness of the universe that triggers deep feelings.
One word that especially resonates with me is solivagant, wandering alone. Wandering invariably reminds me of a favorite movie, Alfred Hitchcock’s “Vertigo.” Madeleine went wandering. Her husband told Scottie, “And she wanders – God knows where she wanders.” Madeleine herself said, “Only one is a wanderer. Two together are always going somewhere.” Scottie doesn’t agree with that; neither do I.
I’ve been fortunate to have people in my life who enjoyed taking off down the road without an agenda other than to see what’s over the next hill, around that curve, enjoying the journey, communing with Nature. We’ve been surprised by a traffic jam of goats, deer families, creeks running across roads, unexpected rainbows and spring snows, an expansive patch of Turks cap lilies, joe pye in autumn, ducks and fishermen sharing the river in summer. There are many good memories to be made during an afternoon of wandering. I blame my love of “loafering,” as we southerners sometimes call it, on my parents and our weekly Sunday afternoon drives with no idea where we were going or when we’d be back, and it has carried into my adult life, via car, truck, motorcycle, bicycle, boat, canoe, and by foot.
Wandering has a history among Pantheist favorites as well. Thoreau, Emerson, and Muir “sauntered” in Nature as a form of spiritual practice and solitude, while Edward Abbey encouraged us to “ramble…and contemplate the precious stillness out yonder, the lovely, mysterious, and awesome space.”
Wandering can lead us as far from home (or keep us as near) as we like. It’s about taking time to slow down and appreciate what’s around us without being in a hurry or on a rigid schedule, and as J.R.R. Tolkien reminds us, “Not all those who wander are lost.” In these days of COVID-19 isolation and distancing, wandering is something we can still do alone, or with family, even if it’s simply exploring our neighborhood. We may see something we never noticed before as we sped by on our way somewhere. But I’ve also come to realize this year that my whole life is really “wandering” in the sense that I’m starting to let go of what life should look like for me. None of us know what’s coming tomorrow or next week, and if we’re too attached to our expectations, the discrepancy can be quite stressful.
Autumn here in the mountains is the perfect time for wandering, seeing leaves change their glorious hues under clear blue skies, experiencing that crisp “feeling of fall” that’s hard to explain, but you know when you feel it, perhaps being fortunate enough to happen upon one of those roadside stands selling apples, pumpkins, fresh cider. I hope wherever and however you wander, you’ll allow the sacredness of Nature to renew and inspire you.
(Originally printed in Pantheist Vision)