The Abiding Spirit of Hospitality
by Martha Dahlen
What if, when visiting the woods, I think of the forest as my host, and of me as a simple guest?
Well, then: Before entering, I naturally pause. Gathering my wits about me, or perhaps letting my heart catch up, as nomadic Indians were said to do. I announce my presence: two claps! and a bow. “I am here; may I be welcome!” I walk. Attentive, observant, appreciative. But then mind slips, like eyes at a cocktail party, roaming for something more interesting than what is around me. I smile, refocus, walk. The ground is resilient, dainty leaves of understory herbs coyly brush rugged trunks. Ah! What can I take back of this deep experience? I stop abruptly. Take back? As in grasp, snatch, steal? Oh! Not that! But what else is there? A response comes from nowhere, or everywhere: “Just be with us.” Just BE? Is it enough? What a relief. But if I am to just be, then I should just be my best, whatever that is. I consider. I walk. It occurs to me that any good guest brings a gift. What can I give the forest? Ah! I pour a libation from my water bottle, and hope the chlorine is not offensive. Another smile. Upon leaving, I give thanks for impeccable hospitality. Two claps! And a bow.
But the memory of that experience lingers. When I see city plants--shrubs, grass, flowers, in pots and yards and highway meridians, I know all of them come from some plant community somewhere else, some close-knit ecosystem where they feel at home and thrive in splendor. Now, here in the city, they are my guests, and I must remember to host them well.