Earth and sky, woods and fields, the mountain and the sea, are excellent schoolmasters, and teach some of us more than we can ever learn from books. -John Lubbock

One thing I’ve noticed when I visit Ricker Mountain in Waterbury, Vermont, is how silent and still it is. It’s as if the mountain’s permanent inhabitants pull back during the day to observe the human visitors from hidden places. The stillness can become so profound at times I begin to get a “last person on earth” feeling creeping up on me. Even the birds are silent. Often the only sounds are my footsteps and walking stick hitting the trail. Occasionally a slight breeze rustles through the autumn-bright foliage.

So when a chipmunk appeared while I was eating lunch at a special spot on Ricker Mountain, I took notice. He hopped onto the stone wall and sat in a spotlight of sunshine. Oblivious to me, he bathed in the sunlight and groomed himself. When he finally realized he was being watched, he stood on his hind legs. We stared at each other for a few seconds, then he primped his tail a bit more before his curiosity got the better of him and he made his stop-and-go way over to me. I didn’t move, not wanting to startle or break the spell of the wee fellow’s approach. He paused once more next to me, scooted behind me, then gave me a once over from the other side before scampering up his tree. I left him a bit of a fruit bar in thanks. I know we’re not supposed to feed the animals, but it just felt like the right thing to do.

My lunchtime visitor on Ricker Mountain

Look deep into nature and then you will understand everything better. -Albert Einstein

His sudden appearance got me thinking what messages Chipmunk had for me.

Like many people, I find chipmunks irresistibly cute. As a child, I remember feeding a friendly chipmunk and what a magical experience it was for my seven-year-old self. As I sat on the stone wall holding my breath and watching him get closer, I could feel my inner child becoming excited at this small interaction with nature and awed at the tiny creature’s trust that I would do him no harm. Perhaps there is a reminder here to rediscover the magic in the world through the eyes of a child.

Like the chipmunk, it’s time to be fearless, to honor my curiosity, to be open to adventure, to play, and to use my energy wisely. But what fears are holding me back? Is it a lack of trust in myself? How do I remove the stone wall — one built on the need for external approval — blocking my creativity? When I write, I tell myself to write like no one else is going to read it. That seems to quiet my inner critic long enough to get something done.

The chipmunk may have seemed to appear out of nowhere to sit on the stone wall, but he didn’t. Through his fearless curiosity, his constant exploration of the deep recesses and cracks in the wall, he knew how to navigate the cool, dark paths through the stone wall into the warming sunlight.

Like Chipmunk, I must find the paths through my own internal stone walls.

The way through my own stone wall is to follow Chipmunk’s example. The path to creative freedom lies in unleashing my own curiosity, my childlike sense of wonder, my playful nature, and my sense of adventure. These are innate to all of us, I think. As we grow and the responsibilities of everyday living get in the way, we lose touch with that “chipmunk” part of ourselves.

My creative self feels corked up most of the time, and it’s maddening. However, to reclaim those chipmunk attributes, I need to delve deep into myself to find the path leading out into my own creative sunlight. In undertaking that inner spelunking, I definitely need Chipmunk’s fearlessness and curiosity.

In every walk in nature, one receives far more than he seeks. -John Muir

Outer exploration in nature helps too. Discovering the Ricker Mountain trails has been key to my recovery. The quiet of the trails is occasionally broken by fellow hikers or mountain bikers, but they soon disappear down the trail and the silence settles in again. The trails lead to adventures and invite exploring, making it easy to answer Chipmunk’s invitation to indulge and exercise my curiosity.

Anything and everything catches my eye — rusting farm and sawmill equipment, the “discovery” of an all but forgotten cemetery off a more well-traveled trail, a hairy spider sitting on one of those gravestones, an old majestic pine tree standing tall and regal among the skinny and much younger saplings, the colorful mushrooms, a pretty bright green-leafed plant with bluish berries, the network of small waterfalls cascading into clear pools, the rocks and boulders scattered so perfectly in the streams making for easy crossing points. It is a beautiful and healing place with so much more to uncover.

When I think about him coming within reach of me, was Chipmunk also sending a reminder to approach new people and situations with an open, optimistic mindset? I am by nature a shy and introverted person who is at best awkward in dealing with new situations and, in particular, people. It stems from a lack of self-confidence and belief in myself. I am working on that, but only as I put myself in more positive situations that feed my self-confidence will my mindset transform.

Once we believe in ourselves, we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight, or any experience that reveals the human spirit. –e. e. cummings

Finally from Chipmunk, the message could be that the big scary obstacle in my path isn’t so frightening after all. I just have to give into my curiosity, approach it, and evaluate it. What looked suspicious from afar turns out on closer inspection to be nothing worrisome, after all. I don’t have to climb over it. In the same way the chipmunk treated me, I can get to my destination by going around it — which means it wasn’t an obstacle at all. It becomes one only if I insist on seeing it that way.

In fact, it may turn out to be a friendly giant that leaves a gift — the gift of believing in myself, the creative gifts I was blessed with, and overcoming the fear to share them.

On a journey of self-discovery

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