Mary Sketch is a program Associate with the Rural Assembly and Center for Rural Strategies.
A self-proclaimed trail runner and environmentalist, I always used to say to go on a run was to celebrate with the birds. Every day, when the clock struck five, I would lace up my shoes, tie back my hair, and step outside to once again receive the liturgy of the land.
These days, the celebration has become more important than ever. In moments when the world is spiraling to places beyond our darkest imagination, I find peace in knowing that the warm embrace of the trees will always be just a few strides away. Yet, the ritual looks different now. As the mountain trails and public lands that I so love close amid the pandemic, I have found a new church in the streets of our South Knoxville neighborhood. The birds still sing their daily sermon and the sidewalk honeysuckle still reminds me of the sweetness of Spring.
As I run, I meditate on the words of environmentalist and author Terry Tempest Williams:
“Once upon a time, when women were birds, there was the simple understanding that to sing at dawn and to sing at dusk was to heal the world through joy. The birds still remember what we have forgotten, that the world is meant to be celebrated.”
As I settle into the rhythmic space between my breath and my cadence, I am reminded that the earth provides music to those who listen.
I round the corner back to our house and the endorphins quickly settle. My feet slow down and the reality of the new normal hits me again. I soon remember the brokenness and despair that is so deeply etched against the nativity of Spring.
Amid this chasm of birth and death, I find myself chasing the normalcy of the natural world- grasping at the hope of the blooming pear and dogwood trees. We live in a world of dichotomy, a dichotomy that no number of miles can allow me to fully comprehend.
And so, I simply find peace knowing that tomorrow will come again. And when it does, I will once more be celebrating with the birds.
“When the despair of the world grows in me… I come into the peace of the wild things.”
– Wendell Berry