Sunday was the finest day we’ve had so far this year. Elk Creek is one of my favorite drainages in the valley and I decided to roam it for the day. The creeks are just beginning to rise, the snow pack in the high country barely beginning to melt.
The first two creek crossings I was able to use some downed trees for a crossing bridge. But the third one would require wet feet. I decided to detour up to a secret side drainage which followed a steep game trail to a view point on the top of the divide.
As I walked, I felt how these last three years of living here had begun to change my thinking, my way of moving in nature. I noticed the moose that had wandered from my nearby forest through an open area that I didn’t think was part of her usual rounds. Her tracks were easy to differentiate from the numerous elk tracks on the same trail.
I stopped to run my fingers over and measure the print of a male grizzly that frequents the bottom of Elk Creek. I got out my notepad and recorded his stride, width and length for future study. Further down the trail, a nice aspen grove I’d been watching for five years is maturing nicely, with older trees giving way to younger clones.
In brief spurts, a scent wafts through the air, similar to a skunk but not as all-pervasive. I pause to wonder from where it came–plant or animal. I’ve smelled this scent before in the spring only. All the daily walking, studying and pondering over these last years has paid off in unexpected ways–I feel I can more easily piece together the puzzles of the natural world than I did several years ago.
This winter has been a hard one for deer and Elk Creek is no exception. Everywhere I’ve hiked there’s been deer carcasses. Interestingly enough, I’ve noticed less active signs of bears in the lower drainages than previous years at this time. I’ve been wondering if the easy availability of winter kills upon leaving their dens has had the effect of the bears foraging elsewhere now. I have more questions now to answer than three years ago too.
My teacher coined the term ‘Consideration’ (liberally interpreting the Sanskirt word ‘Samyama’) to describe the action of pondering something so deeply that one combines with it completely. By entering into this process (by deeply considering a subject from every possible angle) its truth would be known through thoroughly combining with it.
Robert Heinlein used the term ‘Grok’ in his novel ‘Stranger in a Strange Land’ in a similar way: Grok means to understand so thoroughly that the observer becomes a part of the observed—to merge, blend, intermarry, lose identity in group experience.
True knowledge and mastery of anything requires combining oneself, the observer combines with its subject. It is not enough to be well-read on a subject, but one must completely be immersed and given over in order to master it. Every profession requires this in order to master it, every art, even every philosophy or religion. We must completely absorb every aspect of it, become fluid in it, become one with it to know it completely.
My experience and my wanderings in the natural world are like that. Reading and study informs me, but it is only through continued direct experience and immersion, deep pondering and relaxed attention, samyama and continued consideration, that its secrets reveal themselves to me–slowly, ever so slowly over time. That is why the Native Americans who lived here in times past were so intimate with nature. They had combined so directly with the animals, the plants, the rocks and even the non-physicality of the world, that they had a supernatural and direct understanding of the world around them. In other words, they grokked it completely.