I wanted to drop in to say hello and express my gratitude for all you who are reading this. This blog has been a wonderful project which I have nurtured for over a year now, and the slow development of a readership warms my heart. I receive messages from all over the world from people who have found ANFT through the blog, and I am honored to be doing my part to share the message of the Medicine of Nature and the Forest.
This week I have something extra for you that I cannot wait to share. Blogs are generally published on Thursdays and we have the had the opportunity to feature guest authors from over seven countries, providing many voices to the conversation of nature and forest therapy. However, it is not too often a story is shared by our founder, Amos Clifford, on this platform.
I have the pleasure of working alongside Amos and receive many of his stories as to how ANFT came about and the insight he has derived through the development of this practice. Yet, I realize that so many of you do not have this opportunity- to hear stories of deep nature connection from Amos.
And so, as a little something extra, I offer you a story as told by Amos- a story of how nature presents to you exactly what you need in order to receive necessary insights, no matter what they be.
Seeing the Lion: A Story of the Senses
The anesthesia we feel is so pervasive that we are likely not aware that it exists. Numbness has become, indeed, comfortable; it is the normal sensory state of our times.
Numbness has become, indeed, comfortable; it is the normal sensory state of our times.
But it was not always so. From time to time we may have experiences that show us how great is our capacity for sensory awareness. My encounter with the lion on Sonoma Mountain, or rather, what happened the night after, was for me such a moment.
Still, I had a feeling.
When I came across a pair of wildlife biologists who were installing trail cameras near the summit of the mountain, I asked them what they had learned about the lion population. “You’d be surprised,” one of them answered, “at how often they are very close to the trail. You can walk right by them and never know they are there.” I looked around at the grassy slopes and the small copses of trees dotting them, imagining that a lion in the vicinity, watching.
As I continued to explore Sonoma Mountain, the presence of the unseen lion was palpable. I took to carrying a wooden walking stick with an impressive knot on the end of it, which I referred to as my “Lion Beater.” As I wandered through the forest, I indulged in a fantasy in which I met the lion, brandished my staff, and came to an understanding based on mutual respect. The lion would look at me, twitch its tail, and then slink silently away.
Yet after seven years on Sonoma Mountain I had yet to see one. This was quite a frustrating disappointment for me. I would have loved to have even a mere, momentary glimpse of one these magnificent predators in its natural habitat. But when the moment came, I received much more than that.
“Finally, I’m getting my glimpse!” I thought.
I was so excited! And, as a bonus, I felt perfectly safe because I was securely enclosed inside my Prius .
My excitement grew when, instead of continuing and disappearing into the night, the lion turned and casually strolled up the center of the road, square in the beams of my headlights. The lion simply sauntered while I followed behind it; perhaps the quietness of the Prius was a factor in its comfort.
My mind was racing: I was furiously observing as much as I could. I fumbled for my phone, hoping to capture a video, but realized that doing so merely distracted me from the actual experience and opportunity to observe that I was receiving.
The lion walked for about 150 feet when it noticed, on the left side of the road, a skunk foraging in the grass. I suppose it thought, “Well, hello, dinner!” It pounced on the skunk. There was a wild tussle that lasted perhaps two or three seconds before the lion was back in the middle of the road, now drunkenly stumbling forward. I realized that I had just witness a lion losing a battle with a skunk!
I continued to follow it, driving through the aromatic cloud the skunk had produced. Wondering how the skunk had fared, as I drove by I peered at the scene of the attack, but could not see it. The lion continued up the road with me slowing pacing it, until it came to gated driveway leading into a vineyard. It quickly slipped through the gate and was gone. I went home feeling elated by my good fortune. I mean, I didn't just have a quick glimpse! The encounter had lasted perhaps two whole minutes. And top of that, how wonderful and rare to witness a lion losing a battle with a skunk!
But the story wasn’t over, and the main lesson it held for me was yet to come, which came the following night.
It was a moonless night, and quite dark as I walked toward the mailbox. The image of the lion was strong in my mind; it would be a matter of about 15 minutes for it to make its way from where I had last seen it, the night before, to where I now walked in the darkness. As I thought about it, what had been a vague background concern suddenly blossomed into acute anxiety. I walked a few paces more and the anxiety metastasized into serious fear. I froze in place; my mind imagined the lion crouching in the darkness nearby. Was my life at risk, in this very moment? It was a real possibility.
Internally I debated: shall I continue, and pick up the mail as I had done for the past seven years? Or should I play it safe and go back to the security of my home? It was not an easy decision. But after a few moments, I knew what I had to do. I would go forward. I took one more step down the driveway...and my night vision opened up.
..and my night vision opened up.
There was an almost explosive heightening of my ability to see in the dark. What had been vague shapes become sharply defined objects. I could make out the details of nearby bushes, and things in the middle distance were quite easily distinguishable. "Ah!" I thought. "This is how our ancestors experienced things."
“Ah!,” I thought. “This is how our ancestors experienced things.”
After that single night-time step, I have wondered if perhaps one of the most effective accelerants of sensory awareness is to knowingly step forward when there is a reasonable level of actual risk. That was my insight that night: our senses come alive when we need them. Walking alone at night in lion country is a time good time to let your senses fully awaken.
When our senses are awake, our experience of the world, of life itself, is enriched. The beauty of the night was the gift I received. The more I practice forest therapy, the more my senses awaken.
There are textures of sensation all around us, all the time, offering us pleasures and questions and invitations. Each of these sensory invitations can become sensual, as we connect it with our feelings.
There are textures of sensation all around us, all the time, offering us pleasures and questions and invitations. The sensory explosion of night vision was bound to the tingling experience of fear.
Lion taught me that.
This depth of seeing and feeling are not mine alone, but are an expression of relationship, of being neighbors with lion; of sharing its place on the land. The neighborly presence of apex predators is a powerful antidote to anesthesia.
There is another lesson from this experience. Sometimes when you are walking through the woods you will smell the scent of a skunk. Next time that happens, be aware: it may not be a skunk you are smelling. It may be some other critter who tangled with a skunk.
It may be a lion of your own.