Middle Summer Retreat

Angels in the woods
Of sassafras and pawpaw
Making promises


Unlike simple geographical locations, which exist objectively, places do not exist until they are verbalized, first in thought and memory and then through the spoken or written word.

Kent Ryden

Today is so hot here at the monastery, the humidity so high. But I go for a walk before the sun gets higher and I get too tired.

A reading from Genesis at the service this morning: Abraham’s wife, Sarah, mocking the angels (disguised as travellers) who had promised her she would bear a son in her old age. Of course, against the odds, the child appeared.

I wander out into rolling hills, past freshly cut hay in great round bales, into patches of tall violet monarda and knapweed full of honeybees, bright orange butterfly bushes full of butterflies, white Queen Anne’s lace and yarrow, long drifts of daisy fleabane, the pathway lined with sky-blue chicory and vervain.

I ruminate about Kent Ryden’s assertion that place or landscape exists only as a projection of the mind, that the land is not only dependent on our perception but takes its nature, its characteristics from what we formulate its shapes to be. Place is structure that seems so distant but is actually inside us, constructed by us, an outcropping of our vision.

After an hour in the sun, I retreat into the dark and the shade of the forest. I accept the cool and the mosquitoes. The middle summer woods provide only fragments of color: a few avens a lost fleabane, one pale wild petunia, some small yellow sorrel, but sassafras, pawpaw, locust, walnut, yellow poplar, creeper, and sycamore offer me their protection.

I walk past the religious sculptures placed along the walkway, every few hundred yards a Virgin Mary, a St. Francis, or other storied figure. I ponder the written requests placed at their feet, consider miracles. Then at the end, I come across three angels disguised as statues. Landscape as the figment of my mind, what will those three promise me?

1 Comment

  1. Barbara Valdez

    I especially like the way you suddenly use a geographical term “outcropping” along with an abstraction like “our vision.” It seems to capture the essence of the overall theme, the one that joins matter and spirit–to our great benefit. bv


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