Last weekend, a friend and I went wafting on the Eno River on Sunday afternoon. Our guide was “River Dave” Owen, a congenial dark-haired man who is intimately familiar with the Eno. He seems to know every tree and treefrog as he leads flotillas of wafters up the river and then back to the millpond. The wafts, which are inflatable boats, are reportedly impossible to fall out of, but this was my first time rowing, and I was sure I was going to end up under the boat rather than in it. But no, within five minutes I had learned how to progress without spinning in circles.
The weather that afternoon was intermittently sunny and cloudy, but always cool, which was perfect weather for being out on the water. Along the edges of the river, elms, musselwood trees, and sycamores leaned out to give us shade. On the cliffs were mountain laurel and rhododendron in full bloom, their pink and white blossoms standing out from the gray stone of the hillside and dark green of the leaves. Some young boys played at the river’s edge, slinging a rope over a tree limb and using it to swing out over the river and drop with joyful shouts and tumultuous splashes into the cool, refreshing water.
Halfway up the river, Owen gathered our little flotilla under an elm tree and talked to us about trees, and how every country has its own cosmic tree: India, the banyan; Africa, the baobab; England, the oak; Russia, the linden. America’s cosmic tree, he said, was the American elm. The first president of our country took his oath of office under an elm, he said. We also should seek out our cosmic tree and meditate under it when we have decisions to make or situations in our lives that require clarification. He led us in a few minutes of silence, our wafts rocking gently on the river, the tree sheltering us, and the shouts of the boys playing downriver the only sound besides the occasional song of a bird.
Today, at work, I have aching muscles (Still! On Thursday!) from the rowing. Obviously I used muscles that hadn’t been used in a long time. But I have something else much more important: the memory of that silent meditation. Even here at my desk in a busy medical institution, I can call up that feeling of absolute serenity and the wonderful quietness of my river experience. Trees don’t speak to you in words, nor do rivers. Their language is a spiritual one, felt rather than heard. Owen suggested that we examine our dreams for visual messages from nature, as well. The earth is a living organism, and we are surrounded by sentient beings. As the Native American prayer says, “All my relations!” And they are, they are.