On October 12, 2023

Living the Dream: Earth is a teacher, if you tune in


A few steps beyond my front door and I am engulfed in a swarm of leaves. The wind lifts their lifeless yet multicolored selves off of the cold ground and they swirl around me. My hair flies all around me, caught up on the energy of the wind. I am part of the experience, the centerpiece to this small tornado of leaves and I feel like a cartoon princess for a moment.

You can hear the rustling, the crunch of leaves when you walk through them now wraps itself around you. I’ve heard some Vermonters call them our version of a tumbleweed, rolling across the open fields of still brightly colored grass. They swirl like a light layer of snow across a bitterly cold trail that’s been groomed solid. Nothing is holding them to the earth and so they lift up, almost back to the height of their original life on the tree branches.

It is so much fun to have nature swirling around you, but kind of disconcerting when you’re driving along and suddenly feel like your windshield is being attacked from all directions. The leaves are the color of bricks and your mind plays tricks on you as you drive through what might trigger as a brick wall that is somehow moving. A magician’s trick.

Like the leaves themselves, these swirls live a short life. Just enough for us to see mother nature breathing. Normally, we cannot see the wind though it surrounds us. But as it lifts up the leaves or the snow, we can almost imagine that we are seeing its actual movements, that it almost has a color to it. While we know that’s not possible, that air and wind are just clear molecules and don’t refract or attract light, leaves and snow share their colors. And so we can see, if only for a moment, that which cannot be seen. That which is invisible becomes visible and our eyes are open to the patterns and colors of the wind. 

I remember hearing the lyrics of this song when it came out in 1995, listening as Pocahontas chastises John Smith for thinking that the earth was just a dead thing he could claim. My father, the builder, had taught me to walk the land, to feel the differences in soil beneath my feet and to look for the path of the sun. Only when we know the land, he taught, can we decide where to build. We cannot just come in and force the land to our bidding, we must listen. We must learn. But I didn’t realize that there was life there, I, too, just thought the earth was a thing to build upon.

So I began to listen, to take long walks in the woods and be open to the sounds, smells and sights around me. The sound of the rain on my roof had always captured my attention, but now I began to open my mind; to taste the forest on my tongue after a good, strong rain and listen to all the different noises the animals made while I lay in my bed at night. To listen to the life all around me, to notice the beautiful patterns on the back of a snake and not just its creepiness.

Something changed in me that summer and I began to read about the traditions of native peoples, originally just to fact check the production company. But I began to truly see beyond the edge of the forest and look deeper and allow nature to guide me. I started to listen, to look and feel the world around me and awaken myself to that which had always surrounded me. I still have a long way to go to learn about this land, its history and its energies, but I am learning.

I am not native to this land, nor am I a native Vermonter. However, I can read. I can listen to the forest and I can study the changes from season to season. I can let nature surround me, let the leaves swirl around me. I can feel the changing of the seasons as I meander through the forest, I can breathe in the air from the summit of a mountain, I can float across the water on my canoe and move my body with it as it moves me.

And now, almost 30 years later, I can sing with the mountain, I can dance with the wind, I can draw strength from the earth beneath my feet. I am part of the world around me, not its master. The earth is my teacher and for that, I will always be grateful.

Merisa Sherman is a long time Killington resident, KMS Coach, Bartender and local Realtor.  She can be reached at femaleskibum@gmail.com.

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