“The world is afflicted by death and decay. But the wise do not grieve, having realized the nature of the world.” – The Buddha
My wife and I try to hike in the Pisgah National Forest every Sunday, specifically in the Pisgah Ranger District which consist of over 160,000 acres and 400 miles of hiking trails.
One of the benefits of hiking consistently, other than the obvious health benefits, is that we get to view the seasonal changes that occur in the forest. Each time of year has its own unique qualities but this season, Spring, is by far my favorite. I think we hiked last weekend, maybe we didn’t, but as I was chasing my wife up another steep incline yesterday she stopped and said “Everything looks so green!” Panting, I agreed but added, “Yes, all this green makes it easier to recognize the death and decay.” She shook her head, “I see life and you see death.” that’s not true I told her, “I see life and what had to die to make that life a reality.”
I have been married long enough to know that it was time to shut-up, keep my philosophical thoughts to myself and start trudging up the mountain again. 900 feet up there somewhere was another waterfall she wanted to see and I wasn’t going to ruin her moment with all my Buddhist mumbo jumbo.
Impermanence is much more evident to me in the forest than it is in suburbia. We pass massive Hemlocks that, at eye level, look healthy and strong. But when you look up you realize they are dead. Trees that have stood for generations providing food and shelter will soon crumble to the ground and continue to provide nutrients and homes on the forest floor. The sad reality is that many of these trees have died because we, you and I, have polluted the air which has adversely changed their ecosystem. But for some it was just time, “a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot”.
The landscape of the forest is littered with death and decay but the pasture of lush green ferns that greeted us along the path wouldn’t exist without it. Neither would the beautiful fungi that fill the corners of the forest floor with contrast against a carpet of green moss. It would be easy to mourn the demise of these ancient trees. Trees that grew against all odds and in all seasons. Their survival was perilous at best, but survival for any living organism is perilous and also finite.
I walked through the forest Sunday. I walked and basked in the glory of Spring, of birth, and of new beginnings. I marveled at what warmth and moisture could conjure up through a blanket of leaves. I also walked with the acknowledgment of and a reverence for death and decay. I accept that all life subsides on death and that one must make room for and nourish the other.
“People take death lightly. They expect too much of life. That is why people take death lightly.” – Lao Tzu