We leave the exposure of the meadow and enter the copse of trees, walking slowly, comfortably silent. I find it easy to walk with Irene. Her stride matches my own and the silence between us is not fraught with tension, like a rubber band waiting to snap. Instead, the silence weaves threads between us, linking us in experience, if not words.
While the grove is the furthest out on this journey that I have been, it feels like a middle ground. There is little of the stark hardness of the crevice and the greens, while monochromatic, are not monotonous. I find myself relaxing after the daunting traversal of the gulch and the subsequent meadow. Perhaps a walk through the wood is what I need to detox after my time alone and ready myself to carry on.
But even as I feel my breathing slow and my gait relax, I hear sounds up ahead. Muted whacks. Sharp pings. Low, deep voices and light, higher ones meld in conversation. The sounds are not threatening, but clearly indicate there are people ahead. My stride constricts, my pace slows and eventually becomes a near tip-toe. In my desire to prepare myself, I have forgotten there is someone with me.
“Shannon? What’s wrong?” Irene says calmly.
“Oh. I was just surprised to hear people. Where are we going? I was enjoying the quiet calm of the woods when I realized there’s more than trees here.”
“Well, yes. There are more than trees. What you hear ahead is what I wanted to show you. Do you want to sit and eat before we carry on? I’ve brought lunch in my backpack. While we eat, I can tell you a bit about what’s ahead.”
Thinking I would like to prolong my stay in the leafy shadows, I quickly agree to lunch. Breakfast’s bread and water in the crevice seem a distant memory at this point.
Sitting together on dappled ground, we lunch and I ask Irene about the voices and noises I heard up ahead.
“As a mom, you’ve seen firsthand how we all have different gifts, right? Well, up ahead is a group of people who are all working together and as individuals to find, understand and use their gifts. It generates some noise, especially in contrast to the forest’s quiet.”
“How did they all get here? Do they all know each other? Do they live here?”
“They got here in much the same way you did: they chose to leave some things behind and walk into an unknown place. Most of them didn’t know each other before they got here and some live here, some come and go. There’s really only one rule: everyone’s gift is valuable and no one, not even the gift’s owner, can disparage a gift.” Irene says the last with a tone of gentle urgency and waits for my reaction.
Thinking to myself that this place sounds as scary and as thrilling as Shangri-La, I ask, “Why are we going there?”
“I think you already know the answer to that, Shannon.”
“How do you know I’m supposed to go there? How do you know I even have a gift?” I sputter.
“You do have a gift. Why else would you have come all this way? You have given birth to children. You can birth your gift as well. All birth brings pain, but it is pain worth bearing.”
“You don’t even know me. How can you know where I belong? What if I fail? What if I really set out to seek my gift and come up empty? That seems far worse than not knowing the outcome for certain.”
“Shannon, you can do this. You are strong. You are whole. You’re being made whole even as we speak. The holes inside that only you can see and feel will be no more. You believe this. Examine your heart and your mind and you will know it to be true.”
Sensing immediately the truth of her words, but hesitant to just jump in, I say, “Could I have a few minutes alone before we head on?”
“Take all the time you need,” Irene says as she clears lunch away and watches me wander down a trail towards quiet.