Setting out this morning, I stooped and picked up a pine cone, a gift laid at my doorstep, and held it as I walked. It’s multi-layered scales prick my skin, if I grip tightly, and I do. I hold it as a spiritual provocation, as a suggestion of the Word that is a double-edged sword.
A little farther I stoop and pick up a sweetgum ball and hold it in my other hand, for symmetry. When a couple walk by me, I hide them in my hands, suddenly feeling odd for carrying them. The gum ball is mute but the pinecone cries out, peers around my wrist. But they say nothing, oblivious to my idiosyncrasy, just “good morning.” I turn back to look at them after they pass. Their dog turns also, meets my eyes. He knows.
Today I rename streets, an exercise of dominion. The one that starts with “W” I name “Wilderness,” as I like that image, imagine the hill it crests before streets and homes, when it was a lonely forest or lightly peopled farmland. For a moment I let it all drop away and imagine earth beneath my feet on a rough-hewn trail over the hill between farmstead and pasture. I look up and a hawk circles on thermals. At my feet, under a shrub, a post-it note brings me back, says “Wrong Address.” I walk on.
At the creek, I lean over the rail, unclench my hand, and toss the Word into the water, watch it go downstream, its scales and points ready to do their work elsewhere. I throw the gum ball after it, hope the Word will stick. As I turn to go, I still feel its presence in my hand, an imprint, as I begin to pray.
In “Traveling Afoot,” George Maculay Trevelyan says “[t]here is no orthodoxy in Walking. It is a land of many paths and no-paths, where everyone goes his own way and is right,” and I understand that some things are a matter of preference, and yet I hope my Walk is a long obedience in the same direction, as Eugene Peterson says. Nevertheless, I diverge from my usual course, crossing the four-lane and tramping through a less-known neighborhood, oddly quiet, circling back behind a shopping center, where a worker takes a break, lounging on the steps having a cigarette. He nods.
The heat is rising. I had hoped for some adventure. But a pine cone and a bommyknocker (gum ball), and a few disparate thoughts and fragmented prayers will have to do. It is enough.