“I don’t have any friends.” The statement was so certain I immediately wanted to wrap it in ambiguity.
“You mean it seems like you have no friends.” That’s how I translated the statement in my head. Afterall, the woman who spoke the words is my friend and I am hers. So she has friends. It just seems, in this season that has been so long and so isolating, that she does not.
I understand. Sometimes, in the past year and a half, life has also seemed that way to me. Before the pandemic, my world was alive with friends. Neighbourhood friends. Gym friends. Workplace friends. Church friends. Other friends in faraway places, who I counted on being with once, twice, three or four times a year. During the pandemic, even as my friends and I kept the threads of relationship intact with emails and texts, Zoom chats and phone calls, we felt the absence of presence. The immediacy of showing up in person and in real time.
It’s difficult to really know what’s happening in a friend’s life when you cannot be physically present with them. We humans are ever changing. Friendship deepens when we witness these changes in person, over time.
I have learned this in a new way these past two years, not from my human friends, but from a wholly different kind of friend. I have learned it from the land. Four tracts of land in particular, where I have walked and walked and walked and walked over the course of four seasons, spring, summer, fall and winter.
On July 1, with summer having fully arrived, I went back to a marshland walk I haven’t been on since early spring. So much had changed and yet so much was familiar. The trails, well travelled, were still in wide and spacious; the small hills I’ve been climing up and down no harder or easier to navigate; the reed-ringed marsh still stretched out to the lake, just as it has done for centuries.
And, yet, so much had changed. The woods along the trail were dense and I could no longer easily glimpse the birds whose song filled the air. The creek had loosened itself from winter’s grip and where once ice cracked and shifted, water trickled and pooled over and around rocks.
Two months ago, on a fine spring day I witnessed crowds of diminutive trillum carpeting the forest which had yet to form its canopy of leaves. Unfiltered sunlight coaxed the flowers into bloom. Yesterday, wild lillies and phlox stretched their tall stems to reach dappled sunlight. The reeds in the marsh had grown lush, thick and green. Most of last year’s papery rushes had blown away, been gathered up by birds for nests, or descended into the mud, feeding the world.
As I walked I thought about how the land, like a good friend, sometimes reveals so much to me, and sometimes does not. In some seasons, it is so easy to discern the shape of what is transpiring, understand what has been lost and what is slowly emerging. In other seasons, abundance shields so much from view. I sense what is going on but I cannot easily see it.
Over this long and often lonely year, the land has become a good friend to me. Although my walks are nearly always solitary, I am never alone. These places I walk have become familiar, so much so that even when a new season significantly shifts the shape of the land, I am able to find my way.
And I know we are still friends by the welcome we offer each other, even when we’ve been apart for longer than I would wish.