The Minnows’ Gift

Stillwater Diary, November 1, 2016

The natural world is where we belong. We adapted to its rhythms over eons of change until modern life hooked us with a shiny lure and tossed us, gasping, on its unforgiving shore. We need to return to the source, and breathe deeply. The wild is where we came from, and going to the woods is going home.

woods-3996The other day, that unforgiving shore felt harder to me than usual. Things weren’t going my way. I cried a little. I sulked a lot. And finally, I took to the woods.


My favorite meditation spot is a high ledge above Box Elder Creek, where the stream enters a circle of rocks that rise cliff-high to create a deep, still pool. At the base of a Ponderosa pine, I rest in a nest of shed needles, sheltered by ferns. Below me, the sun etches detailed reflections of rocks and sky. Above the still water, the cliff comes to life with rippling light and shadows.


It’s a quiet spot, always healing. Even if I can’t calm my mind enough to meditate, it helps to sit there and savor the silence. Gradually, the world comes to life all around me, a sensory echo of my spirit’s rise. Maybe the birds decide I’m harmless. Maybe they forget I’m there. I’m not sure, but eventually, one tosses out a cautious note, then another pipes up. Gradually, the air fills with song and I feel welcome in the world, as much a part of this place as the deep-rooted trees and immovable stones.


But that day, I doubted even the birds could lift my mood. As I write that thought, I see it for the sacrilege it is; the woods will heal, unless you’re in some sorry state where you won’t allow yourself to change. When that happens, you might as well go home and wallow. If nature can’t help, you’re far beyond fixing.

But I was hurting in half a dozen ways, and the closest I could get to calm was tired. As always, the water was a mirror, and could only give back what I gave. I’d made up my mind to give up and go home when I heard an unfamiliar sound.


There were ripples on the water. Something flashed at the edge of my vision.

I eased myself to the edge of my perch and watched.


This time I saw it–a little fish, leaping straight up from the water and down again.

Plip. Plop!

More minnows leapt, then bigger fish, flashing silver bellies to the sky. Trout dove and danced, while dozens of minnows, silver and gold, pirouetted like tiny ballerinas celebrating grace and light.

I perched above the pond transfixed, a theatregoer in a prime box seat. The dance hadn’t started until I arrived, and it ended only when the sun went down. I felt singled out and blessed, as if nature had deliberately pulled back a curtain and shown me a secret.

The secret she reveals is always the same: the world is beautiful, and you belong here.


Nothing in my life had changed, but the dancing fish reminded me of the miracles waiting in the woods. My problems mattered less than a minnow, leaping for the light. A flash, a fall, and the water closes, serene as if it had never been stirred.

Any amateur naturalist could tell you that the fish were simply leaping for their lunch. Some sort of insect had hatched above the water, and they were enjoying a sundown feast. My miracle was nothing but fish eating bugs.

But deep down, I know it was more. I don’t understand how the world works, but I do know nature heals. And sometimes, when you need it enough, it heals on purpose, just for you.

   Treasures are waiting in the woods. All you have to do is look.