Was amazing. First of all, it was in Leominster, which meant a beautiful drive out Route 2 with autumn foliage on either side of the road, all hues of red, orange and yellow, birches and fir, pine, and maple, oak, beeches, sturdy strong New England trees. The weather stayed cool and bright. Our theme this year was Care of Creation.
We listened to excellent talks offered by The Rev. Dr. Paul Santmire and Rev. Nancy Wright, our keynote speakers. These will be on-line at the Synod website (link above) for you to read. Both the Bishop’s and Pastor Nathan Pipho’s sermons are alreay there, and I commend them to you.
In between our listening sessions, the weather remained nice enough for a walk. My job, on this trip, was to lead that walk, and we had termed it a contemplative nature walk for an afternoon workshop. I had scouted the land a bit beforehand–there wasn’t much to work with, since our hotel was located just off the highway in a large development. A small airport was across the street. But I noticed that the edges of the development merged into greenery, which meant we’d see some fall birds, foliage, perhaps even a rabbit or two.
The instructions for the walk were simple. No talking, no phones, no i-pods, or radios etc. Silence. Pay attention to the breath. Pay attention to where your feet are. Pay attention to what’s happening around you, listen and watch, breathe, feel, stop and look more closely if you need to. We would keep to a very slow pace. We started off from the hotel, and began to walk the perimeter of the land. We crossed the street, and sure enough the first surprise came in the form of an old wood road, opening into a strip of woods between the airport and the development. I was happy, since the discovery of a woods road demonstrated a pet principle of mine–if you start walking, usually there’s some place to go, and always there are surprises.
We were further surprised and delighted by the sudden appearance of the Nashua River snaking its way through the trees a few hundred yards from the woods road. We didn’t see it at first, but all of us heard it above the noise of traffic–the unmistakble sound of bubbling water rushing over rocks. We rounded a bend in the dirt road, and there below us, the river appeared, out of nowhere it seemed. We could see the flood plain on the other side of us had become a series of flat runways for the airport. The hill we were walking along had been sheered off to become the shopping mall and housing development.
Along the path we followed, in among the beauty of trees and undergrowth, we found various signs of human detritus, old shopping carts tossed over the side of the fence around the mall, tin cans, paper cups, old tires, worn signs, plastic straws, rusted metal wire. One of our walkers found a bullet.
Even so, the walk was lovely; birds fluttered here and there. The air was still, trees turning more brightly in the autumn sunshine. A woodpecker called out a warning when he saw us. The further we went from the main road, the quieter the woods became, and we felt ourselves deeper in.
About halfway through the walk, we stopped to rest, and talk for a minute, and noticed, just across the river, a large sewage plant. Everyone laughed ruefully at it–we had been talking all morning about caring for creation, and everywhere we turned were signs of pollution and human carelessness. Our favorite piece of trash was large: a 1964 Rambler, which was slowly being reclaimed by mother earth. Its seats were full of dirt and old leaves, the wheels nearly buried. In a few more years, the Rambler will be a strangely shaped mound in the woods. We wondered who had driven it, and how it had come to be there, sliding down the slope into the river.
The road wove back out of the woods to the opposite side of the mall. We ended up in someone’s backyard, and made our way to a side street. We had been walking an hour-and-a-half, mostly in silence, and we returned from our adventure, with much food for thought. Next year, we decided, we’d make that walk again, and this time, we’d bring gloves, and trash bags–a mission trip of a walk, in a small act of repentence and respect, for what was once and perhaps will be again, a lovely place.