Those Vibrating Heartstrings of Existence

Chapter 5, Part 5

I look for revelations every time I walk in the fields, or go for an amble through the woods, or run along the nearby Robert Frost Trail. Every living creature or natural object or elemental force or universal law I observe is yet another symptom of divine energy.

Quabbin Reservoir

Hiking is one noble path I take toward spiritual energy. Almost every weekend I go for a long tramp in the nearby Quabbin Reservoir, a huge preserve in Western Massachusetts created by the Metropolitan District Commission in the 1930s as the main water supply for Boston. Personally, I use the Quabbin as a vast reservoir of spiritual energy, not unlike the Grand Canyon.

The Quabbin was engineered by damming the meandering Valley of the Swift River, three branches of it, and swallowing an entire landscape, including four historical communities. I like to think of the Quabbin as an engineering ode to those overfed, seven-foot-long, 500-pound beavers, the size of brown bears, which shaped many of New England’s landscapes eons ago. I imagine these beefy beavers receiving their electronic blueprints from the Zero Point Field and following that grand design to bulldoze the earth like migrating glaciers.

From the tower overlook at the Quabbin, you can observe how this colossal beaver pond was formed behind the Windsor Dam, an earth-filled structure 2,640 feet long, rising 170 feet above the Swift River’s bed. Together with the slightly smaller Goodnough Dike, these two dams impound 412 billion gallons of water pooled within an area of 38.6 square miles. The Quabbin was named after a Native American chief called Nani-Quaben, meaning Place of Many Waters. From this tower, the Place of Many Waters resembles an eagle’s eye-view of Lake Champlain. From here, you can also commemorate how the Quabbin’s creation required the flooding and “discontinuance” of four towns, Dana, Enfield, Greenwich, and Prescott; thus dislodging all the residents, moving all their houses, dismantling all their dreams, and even relocating all their cemeteries under the watchful eye of Eminent Domain.

Quabbin Tower

Quabbin Tower: views that pluck at the vibrating heartstrings of existence

Indeed, I once lived in one of these movable houses from the Quabbin, a farmhouse called “Tuttle Farm,” which had been transported by railway from the Quabbin area in the 1930s and perched on a hill belonging to Amherst College. Aptly enough, the place came with its own ghost, whom I called Tuttle. Judging by the ghostly footfalls, Tuttle seemed to roam up and down my stairs at night as a protest, I like to think, against the Metropolitan District Commission making him a displaced person in 1938, forever unstuck in time and space like Billy Pilgrim in Slaughterhouse-Five.

Most of what is left of these four historical villages is underneath a lake of mythical proportions, flooding everything but approximately 60 hilltops and the huge Prescott Peninsula as far as the eye can see. What is also left are scores of old roads, a cartographer’s nightmare hen-scratched around and about the Quabbin. These haunted roads crisscross the land surrounding the Quabbin and serve as hiking trails, cob-webbing the woods of this vast reservation, which I have been exploring for some years now. Hiking the Quabbin is one sure way of raising my consciousness and generating spiritual energy.

One characteristic of these roads is also its most poignant. For they often lead downhill, toward the ghost towns they used to link, and disappear into the lapping waters along the 181 miles of Quabbin’s sandy shoreline. They are highways to nowhere. Besides providing Rockwell Kent views of the reservoir, these disappearing roads remind us of all we have gained, and all we have lost.

My relationship with the Quabbin recalls the words of Michael J. Roads, author of Journey into Oneness. “For brief moments I perceive the interface between this dense physical reality in which we are so entrenched and the metaphysical realities that so easily elude us.”

While hiking a Quabbin ghost trail one afternoon, I had an in-your-face with the metaphysical realities that so easily elude us.

Three Woodpeckers

It's hard to confuse the ivory-billed woodpecker (center) with the pileated woodpecker (right)

I spotted a pileated woodpecker, a crow-sized, prehistoric-looking, black-and-white species with a neon-red, rock-and-roll, Woody Woodpecker topnotch. I watched the woodpecker excavating for wood-boring insects inside several previously drilled, peach-sized holes along the bark of a dead tree trunk, the bird’s head tilting radically right and left in skeptical fashion.

That sighting reminded me of the time, 30 years before, when I had experienced a close encounter with spiritual energy in the flesh.

My girlfriend Rachel and I had been birding in a marshy area of the Ozark Mountains near Eureka Springs, Arkansas, and spotted a large woodpecker, perched on a trunk only 25 yards away. It stayed there, trapped in the lenses of our binoculars, for at least 60 seconds. With absolute awe, we both realized at the same time that we were focused on a male ivory-billed woodpecker.

Of course, I don’t expect anyone to believe me. As has been widely publicized all over North America, the birding establishment has long considered the ivory-bill to be extinct. Hence, our sighting was quickly dismissed with the kind of distain reserved for crackpots of every ilk. One male birder, with behavior diagnostic of his species, openly mocked us for daring to think we could see the unseeable.

What we couldn’t explain in words, and really didn’t care to, was that our identification of this rare woodpecker went far beyond the act of verifying all its field marks in a birding guide. No, there was something sacred and timeless about this stubborn bird as it bickered with extinction. Seeing it was like the feeling one must enjoy after making a pilgrimage of several thousand miles to find an ancient holy place, lost to civilization for centuries. That feeling, that sense of the sacred and the timeless, is as good a definition as any for spiritual energy. That ivory-billed woodpecker was our rendezvous with the Zero Point Field. With Akasha.

Rachel and I had the last laugh about our unbelievable spotting. Starting in 2004, there were several sightings of ivory-billed woodpeckers by “expert birders” in eastern Arkansas, not far from where we saw ours. When this exciting news started making headlines in many newspapers and TV stations around the U.S., Rachel emailed me with a one-word message that said it all:

“Hah!”

And that’s also what I say to myself whenever I’m communing with nature’s life energy. “Hah!”

Nature always inspires me with a sense of the sacred and the timeless, in much the same way that Thoreau must have been inspired by each of his daily afternoon “saunters,” which he took so religiously from his outpost on Walden Pond. Likewise, any moment of our lives can also become an encounter with spiritual energy. Any moment can become an encounter with an ivory-billed woodpecker. An encounter with the Grand Canyon. With Henry David Thoreau sauntering around Walden Pond. With the lost world beneath the Quabbin Reservoir. It’s only a matter of mindfulness.

When imbibing spiritual energy, I’m often reminded of a line from the Field of Dreams film: “There comes a time when all the cosmic tumblers have clicked into place and the universe opens itself up for a few seconds to show you what’s possible.”

There’s no reason in the world not to take pleasure in our collective field of dreams right outside. Nature’s spiritual energy is our most ancient legacy. If the Akashic life force is indeed any kind of human inheritance, this is where we can go to claim it: in our own back yard.

Here is what the miraculous simplicity of Walden was all about: delighting in the natural, elemental, and elegant things that make life worthwhile.