Early in the morning, I walk in the forest, exchanging greetings with the woods creatures. The birds, of course, sing their good mornings. Wood thrush and hermit thrush, sapsucker and downy woodpecker, titmouse and chickadee all sing hello, in words I know well. Warblers whose English names I still don’t know sing greetings in words I recognize but do not yet speak. Chipmunks and squirrels chatter staccato. Hawks scree and keep a close eye on mammalian movements, eager for breakfast. The church choir is in full voice to greet the new day.

The weather has finally warmed, this week. In gratitude, the leaves of the beech and birch trees have burst into their youthful green habits. Still, it is cool and I am dressed warmly. Like my tree-fellows, I am porting a green habit — a simple hooded sweatshirt, “forest green,” as the tag says. I want to fit in. I do not plan to strip bare for winter, though, as my fellows do. There are limits.

Many small plant creatures are rousing from sleep, emerging from the cool darkness of Earth. Unfurling ferns catch my eye today. How tightly they must have curled together, huddling close to stay warm in the long winter night. But now, day is come. Rejoice and be glad!

The gentlest breeze sways the high branches. A trickle of water swishes the liquid tresses of green algae, back and forth, back and forth, in the stream of life.

I notice a few who are absent this morning; there are no black flies. Nor, to my surprise, have the mosquitos appeared. I can’t say I miss their whiny voices and sharp jabs, but I do wonder what’s going on. There has been plenty of rainfall and it certainly seems warm enough. Is everything alright?

The ticks, alas, have made themselves known. I picked off three yesterday. If I could change one thing, it would be to send them away. Even here, there are creatures I find hard to love. As I walk, I am reminded of God’s cameo appearance in the Garden of Eden, just as everything goes down: “They heard the sound of God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze…God called to the man…” (Genesis 3:8)

I am walking in the forest, and I call greetings to all the creatures. They call back. I tell them how beautiful they are, and how much I love them. I’d like to believe they say the same back.

From the poustinia, 


Stephen Blackmer

Stephen Blackmer is founding executive director of Kairos Earth and chaplain of Church of the Woods. Steve comes to this with 30 years of conservation experience, having founded and built conservation organizations including the Five Rivers Conservation Trust, Northern Forest Alliance and Northern Forest Center.

A midlife shift led him to Yale Divinity School and ordination as a priest in the Episcopal Church, carrying the question in his heart and mind: “How can being a priest deepen my work to conserve the Earth? What does the Christian tradition have to offer to this work? How can the Christian tradition be re-understood and re-imagined in a time of need? How can the conservation movement recover its understanding of the Earth as holy ground?