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  • Vicki Sontheim

Mikko, the Forest, and Me - Oh My!

Updated: Sep 13, 2022

On our way home from a recent walk in the woods I was talking with Mikko about what to write about in my next blog. I looked at him and it became clear – our experience in the forest that morning. We both love the forest for some of the same, and for some very different, reasons. For me it’s always a calming, soul soothing, often deeply contemplative, and insightful adventure. For Mikko it is clearly an adventure which nourishes his soul, and I believe he contemplates deeply as well in his style.

He knew where we were going and excitedly boasted to everyone we passed on the street as we left our house in our small town downtown. We arrived and parked in my favorite shady spot overlooked by 3 adolescent ponderosa pines. Mikko waited (mostly) patiently while I put on his harness and leash. Two steps out of the car he engaged in his first important order of business – he pooped! Pooping in the forest is very serious business for Mikko.

Chest forward, head high, he “wiped his paws” and I took care of his deposit. I nodded for him to lead the way and we meandered to one of his new favorite places. Up the path, across the clearing, down a little brushy trail, and behind a tall ponderosa pine I enjoy leaning against and listening to, is a deer skeleton. As he immersed himself in sniffing away at the bones, taking it all in in the way that he does, I leaned up against the tree.

For some reason leaning against the tree was a bit unsettling on this morning, and I found myself uneasy about the skeleton we’d visited several times before. I felt my love for the deer and my sadness about the circumstances of her crossing. I felt a calm knowing that we are all both predator and prey. Host and parasite. The deer let me know she had gladly given her body to nourish her predator and spoke of a timeless agreement to this effect. This idea felt curiously and vaguely familiar.

Our visit to the deer reminded me of when Mikko was a puppy. He would very purposefully find places for his treasures - half hidden and half in plain sight - and then would visit them regularly to check and make sure everything was just so. We would find chew sticks alongside the fireplace. Next to a shoe in the closet. Just under the edge of the bed. One of my all-time favorites was on the edge of the bathtub. This deer’s skeleton has become one of the treasures he likes to tend to.

We wound our way back up the little trail where another of the tall ponderosa pines at the edge of the clearing called to me. As I leaned against it, I saw impressions of a mountain lion chasing a deer and the deer falling. This tree had the perfect vantage point for witnessing what had happened. Feeling both my sadness for the loss of the deer and awe for the divine orchestration of life, I was reminded that the laws of the forest are different than the laws humans imagine for themselves.

We meandered down the edge of the clearing, stopping for Mikko to sniff and be curious about everything of interest. He immersed himself deeply in the traces and smells of the animals that had been there recently. Other dogs. Bears. Raccoons. Squirrels. Mountain lions. Humans.

I too immersed myself in the smell of wet pine and the song of the leaves as the breeze danced through the treetops. Breathing deeply, I allowed the fragrances to permeate my cells and felt gratitude for the moisture so treasured in the desert. With each breath I felt my energy expand and my awareness push outwards into the forested mountains becoming less and less aware of where my body stopped and the outside world began. I bathed for a moment in the lush feeling of being at one with the forest.

It was then I first noticed what I hadn’t noticed - that the two young ravens who often chaperone us were absent. I listened for them. In fact, called a few times to see if they’d answer. I’ve been practicing their calls, and while not yet quite there, I come very close with a couple of them. The forest doesn’t judge me and I tend not to care who’s listening as the ravenlike sounds move freely through my throat and call out. My efforts did not result in their joining me, although I did wonder if they were listening with their wry amusement from some unseen place. Would they recognize me?

Then, suddenly, a long-tailed tree squirrel raced in front of us and caught us by surprise! It scurried up one of the tall ponderosa pines and frolicked to and fro in the willowy branches of the little trees between the pines. Mikko and I practiced “look” from just this side of the edge of his urge to chase, until the squirrel scurried up another tall pine and out of sight.

With smiles in our hearts, Mikko took us to the sandy creek bed which while not flowing, was still wet from the previous night’s rains. Our squirrel met up with us again there, and this time it took less coaxing for Mikko to just watch rather than try to chase it. Side by side, we shared our appreciation and excitement for the show the squirrel seemed to be putting on just for us - chattering, swinging, and jumping from tree to tree. When the show was done, I thanked Mikko for staying so calm, the squirrel for sharing its performance, and we walked further on.

This time, I took the lead. On our way to my favorite tree (you guessed it - another big, old ponderosa) a pair of cyclists were heading towards us. I saw them before Mikko did and moved calmly and swiftly to create the distance Mikko needs to observe calmly rather than bark and pull. We exchanged greetings as they rode by and then proceeded to the tree.

On my favorite side to lean on this tree I saw a network of small cobwebs – further evidence of the host-parasite thoughts I’d had earlier. Mikko sat patiently as I leaned my spine against the opposite side of the tree. Surprisingly, for the 2nd time that day, my usually calm connection felt different. Still calm, and yet disquieting. I had the impression of rumbling from deep within the ground moving up and through the tree and myself.

For a moment I did that thing I sometimes do where I assumed it must be a foreshadowing of some big thing - a “catastrophic” event to come. Maybe an earthquake! Doves did that with covid, and so why not a tree, right? As always, the tree’s energy calmed me and I walked away curious, puzzled, and trusting more would reveal itself if it served well. Mikko led the way for a bit, and then I sat down facing the tree and asked if it would share more.

I came to see that the rumbling was life force moving from its roots up through its trunk and to its branches and leaves. I became aware of exchanges of sunshine and water along the way fueling the growth. With that came an insight about growth feeling unsettling sometimes, as life force makes room for itself to be where it hasn’t yet been. Not so much growing pains as the resistance that growth can come up against as it finds room for itself. We, as humans, sometimes label and experience that as pain. For the tree it was a matter of course.

Grateful for the tree’s wisdom and Mikko’s patience, we resumed our walk. As our time in the forest was nearing its end, we both felt hesitant to leave. Mikko realized we were getting close to the car and wanted to turn back. He plopped his butt down in the way he sometimes does as if to say, “I’m not moving and you can’t make me.” We lingered a few moments longer, wistfully, letting our experiences settle in, and then I said, “This way.” He jumped up and we made our way to the car and headed for home.

We stopped at our favorite little coffee hut on our way home for a latte and treats. Mikko was on the lookout for the cats and chihuahuas that live across the street, and while always ready for the treats the baristas give him, he was too preoccupied to visit.

Having satisfied something deep in both of our souls, the drive through downtown on our way back was much quieter. As we got closer to home my mind began shifting to my work - and so this story ends as it began. I was talking with Mikko about what I should write about in my next blog. I looked at him and it became clear – our experience in the forest that morning.

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