The other day when I emerged from the brown late-autumn woods, I came across two marble angels, taller on their knees than I was standing. They were gray and weathered, their heads bowed, their palms together in prayer, wings poised high.
I had been alone in the woods that surround St. Clare Monastery near Cincinnati, walking up and down hills in the mild valley sun. I was thinking of nothing in particular other than listening for cardinals and titmice and the possibility of finding moss in bloom, a sprout of snow trillium or a patch of snowdrops. I heard a pileated woodpecker in the distance, saw it flee deep into the woods.
But after encountering the angels, I realized I was no longer alone, and that from a casual search for spring, I had entered into a full-blown relationship with all kinds of associations. And by the time I made my way back to my truck, coming face to face with the Blessed Virgin Mary along the way, her paint peeling and her features worn away by frost and rain, I was surrounded by guardian spirits, and I was leaving the woods in a far different state than when I had entered.
While I drove home, I prayed a few decades of the rosary, and I thought about how I looked for solitude within nature, but I didn’t really want to be completely alone there. Another human being, on the other hand, would remove the power of solitude, could take me too far from the kind of separation I was seeking.
It also struck me as completely sensible that people, finding themselves alone and vulnerable in a state of nature, would create companions and guides where none existed,. Without angels, magical virgins or wood nymphs, without some totem or greater context to accompany them on their way, they might fail at what they believed was self-sufficiency, and their sense of solitude might turn to loneliness.
This is Bill Felker with Poor Will’s Almanack. I’ll be back again next week with notes for the transition week to early winter. In the meantime, look for guardian spirits – you never know when they’ll find you.