A Most Meaningful Morning

Metanoia Catalyst, installation, Maurie Jacobs Plaza, Eugene, OR, 2018, Leah Wilson & Kate Ali (image by Sunny Selby)


Recognition begins fairly quickly. Knowing is revealed slowly. 

Average Colors of the South Yuba River, Oil on 65 wood panels, 55 in. x 151 in.

Fern Ridge Project: One Year, Four Sites, oil on 16 wood panels, 22 in. x 118 in., 2011, Leah Wilson


I began running a soft, flat, bark dust covered section of the trail, as I recovered from an injury. It travels down one side of a creek, crosses it, and goes back up the other side. More people use this trail than the ones in the hills and forest that I prefer. They keep regular morning schedules, as do I, and I soon came to recognize them. 

Bark Beetle Gallery

Bark Beetle Gallery, Leah Wilson


There is the man who shuffles, crossing the bridges to make tight circles around the creek to supplement the larger 3 ½ mile circle. It looks like he is not moving very fast, but his shuffle is deceptive. He doesn’t smile. He doesn’t appear to see me.

Another man, this one older walks in the street carrying a light in his hand. He shouts, “Good morning!” through the darkness. Even though I know to expect this – I recognize his gait from a distance – the volume and insistence of the greeting still sometimes startles me. 

And there is the solo walker with his small schnauzer, the most calm schnauzer that I have ever encountered. He politely returns my hello as we meet and pass.

Beetle Drawing Beginning

Beetle Drawing I (work in progress sketch), charcoal on paper, 22.5 x 30 in., 2012,  Leah Wilson

Many months have passed, half a year, maybe more. My injury has healed enough so that I can run in the forest hills again where there are fewer people, but I still begin and end at the flat trail.

The shuffling man who never smiles now smiles and greets me with a warm hello. He has a brilliant smile. The man with the schnauzer replies a hello of recognition, not just politeness. The man who shouts hello shouts his same hellos. Sometimes he also offers an exclamation that the morning is beautiful.

Beetle Drawing underpainting

Beetle Drawing I (work in progress), gouache on paper, 22.5 x 30 in., 2012,  Leah Wilson

Only recently I learn that the man who shuffles is named John. He had chronic knee problems, but with his regular exercises, he doesn’t have pain anymore. He is anxiously awaiting the end of the COVID restrictions so that he can start to run the local marathons again. Now he always asked me if I am keeping up with my exercises so that I don’t get injured again. He holds me accountable,” Are you doing your exercises? Every day. You need to do them every day!” 

Maggie, the schnauzer is 13 years old. Sometimes she doesn’t have the energy to leave the house to go hiking with Rex. He comes to the trail alone on those days. This makes him sad.

Beetle Drawing Day 3

Beetle Drawing I (work in progress), gouache on paper, 22.5 x 30 in., 2012,  Leah Wilson


Coming to know a place, a landscape, and the relationships within it that form the connected ecosystem is similar. At first, nothing is familiar, but it doesn’t take very long to start to recognize plants and animals. The flora and fauna can tell you a lot about the terrain that you are in. They form relationships: an ecosystem.

Soon thereafter, individual trees, bends in the trail and creek, the place where the owl calls, all of these places become markers that orient me to the land. There is a large snag that I run past that I now regard as a friend, not so different from John. I would miss the owl if I did not hear it speak to the last moments of morning darkness before the sun rises. It is so consistent in its location and calling that even when it is very dark, I know where I am on the trail in relationship to the sound. I would feel disoriented if I didn’t hear it.

This familiarity opens itself to a knowledge that stretches beyond a perceptual knowing of a place to an integrated embodied knowing. It’s a knowing that happens when you can sense the rhythms and patterns without being overtly aware of them. This knowing is sensitive. It may feel like knowing something from the gut, but the gut doesn’t have anything to do with it. It’s really a knowing that comes from connection. If the connection is disrupted, it is felt.

This type of knowing takes times and it is not a knowing of facts or science, although that type of knowledge may be a step that leads to it. Just knowing a name solidifies the awareness of an individual entity. John. That is John. I recognize his gait and I know some facts about John, but I don’t know him in the way that comes from a real connection, and I probably never will. I am not there to connect with John that way; I am there to know the forest. Running helps set my rhythm to the forest’s rhythm, weaving my patterns within its patterns until they are not so separate.

The forest does not greet me by name and I do not run around naming its parts. Even so, I feel that the knowing is deepening into something more than merely recognition of individual entities like the snag and the owl. Maybe someday the knowing will become deep enough that it can be called wisdom. How long would that take to start to happen? I do not know. It’s a relationship. Every relationship develops at its own pace and in its own way. That is not something that can be forced. All that I can do is to make my intention known, invite the forest in, and be committed to showing up to receive whatever it has to offer on any given day.

HJ Andrews Project: Beetle Drawing I

Beetle Drawing I, gouache on paper, 22.5 x 30 in., 2012,  Leah Wilson


One recent morning the man shouted, “Good morning! Are you having a meaningful morning?!” That seems, of any question, the most appropriate one to shout on these mornings. Yes! Yes, I am. Thank you for asking. I hope that you are having a meaningful morning also! 

Forest Light

Morning in the HJ Andrews Experimental Forest, Leah Wilson

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