Acts of Love and Service

Dear readers,

Here in Hawaii, each island has a “wet” or windward side, and a “dry” or leeward side. The valley where I live is on the “wet” side. The forest here is graced with frequent rains and warm, damp winds. Mushrooms spring from rotting logs; ferns and flowers thrive; streams meander down the cliffside on their way to join the river that leads to the sea. I love the lush and misty mornings, and the rain that fills my catchment barrels and waters my garden. As for my possessions, and especially my books, they don’t fare as well in the relentless damp, which is forever making objects rust, mildew, or otherwise deteriorate in a variety of ways. 

As an author and editor, I’ve spent most of my adult life lugging around a large collection of books: Chinese poetry, novels I keep meaning to reread, hefty tomes on technology, nature, and language. Since moving to the valley, however, I’ve realized that books aren’t meant to be collected—at least, not by me. They’re meant to be read before the warm, wet air speckles their pages with mildew or furs their jackets with a fine white coating of mold. My book collection, once substantial, now occupies one trim shelf—a strange state of affairs for a writer. The upside, however, is that when somebody gives me a book, I read it right away, before the local microorganisms have their way with it. A book feels like a flower, which will wilt, then rot—so I appreciate its fleeting presence all the more. 



The last book I read was Loaves and Fishes: The Inspiring Story of the Catholic Worker Movement, by Dorothy Day—a gift from an acquaintance of mine. As the Senior Editor at Hierophant, I read a great variety of self-help and spirituality books, from a wide range of traditions. Although I could easily list all the Buddhist, shamanic, and New Age books I’ve read in the past year, I have to admit that was the first time in many years I’d read a Catholic one. In fact, the book had sat on my shelf for several months, in violation of my “read it right away” rule. I was afraid I wouldn’t like it, or that it would feel like church—a type of resistance I don’t usually bring to, say, the Zen books that come my way. But as Hierophant author and Toltec Shaman don Jose Ruiz would say, “We’re all working for the same boss.” Once I recognized my resistance, I took the book down and began to read. 

Dorothy Day was a journalist who converted to Catholicism at the age of thirty, and co-founded a newspaper called The Catholic Worker, along with a social justice movement of the same name. With the help of a growing number of friends, she opened “houses of hospitality”—literal houses, apartments, and eventually, farms run by volunteers, where people impoverished by the Great Depression could get hot food, dry clothes, and a bed. In Loaves and Fishes, she talks in frank, no-nonsense language about the challenges of running these houses. She describes the difficult or unpleasant characters who moved in for months or years at a time—belligerent alcoholics, people suffering from severe mental illness, people who were selfish, grandiose, or downright mean. 

It was against Day’s principles to turn anyone away, no matter how disruptive or destructive they were. She believed that humans were called to love one another, and she was determined to put this belief into practice, no matter how much it cost her at a personal level.  

Far from making the path of radical love sound easy and attractive, she is unflinching in her account of how difficult it was. There were unpaid bills, evictions, theft and vandalism, and sleepless nights. Guests at the hospitality houses weren’t necessarily transformed by Day’s kindness; often, they wandered away just as cranky and irascible as they were when they showed up. 

The path of love, in Day’s telling, isn’t only about working on oneself—it’s active service to the people who need our kindness and care the most, who often happen to be the people we find difficult or overwhelming. It’s doing things we don’t like to do, or which we even find unpleasant, giving up time, sleep, privacy, wealth, or comfort so that others may suffer less. Put another way, it’s a radical realization that there is no separation—that there is only one body of humanity which needs to be clothed, sheltered, and fed. 



The day I finished reading Loaves and Fishes, I went to visit my neighbors, as I do several evenings a week. We sat around under the monkeypod trees, chatting about trucks and dogs and other features of rural life. Then one of my neighbors brought up the subject of the little old man who lives down the trail with a menagerie of dogs, cats, and pigs. As long as I’ve lived in the valley, he has been rickety, with a skinniness verging on the ethereal. We all have stories about finding him toppled over on the trail, pulled over by the weight of his enormous backpack, or sprawled in the river after his ankle turned on a rock. But in the past few months, he’s grown even more frail, and the question now arises of what to do about him. How can we help him? What do we owe him? Where do our responsibilities begin and end? 

Six months ago, after he had a bad fall, a few neighbors found him housing closer to town, where he would no longer have to walk for miles to get basic supplies. But after just a few nights away, he made his way back to his hut in the forest, unwilling to leave the life and the home to which he was accustomed. We all confessed to leaving groceries at his gate; some neighbors brought him propane, and others cooked him hot meals. One neighbor raised the idea of repairing the old man’s hut, or moving him into an empty building where we could keep a closer eye on him—and wasn’t there an empty cabin on another neighbor’s land? 

The neighbor in question protested. “You want him as your roommate, you take him!” 

I couldn’t blame him. The truth is, we all had space to take in the old man, if we really wanted to. But the thought of having him there every day, with his dogs and pigs, his messiness and his needs, was daunting. Besides, the old man had already made it clear that he didn’t want to leave his hut, refusing the housing that had already been found for him. 

“Do you guys even remember all the things he did?” my neighbor went on. “We’re not talking about some sweet old man, here.” 

Indeed, the old man has caused a lot of harm over his lifetime. Although his age and frailty give him an aura of innocence, the truth is that he ruined many lives during his healthier years. How should that factor into how we treat him now? Should we bend over backwards to help him, or should we let him lie in the bed he’s made? 

By the end of the evening, we hadn’t arrived at satisfying answers to these questions. But the next morning, and every morning after that, we all kept dropping groceries at his gate, just like before. 



How can we practice love? Not just think about it, or write about it, but practice it in our everyday lives? How can we love others when it’s hard or inconvenient, or when they don’t deserve it as much as we think they should? How can we practice love when it’s unfair, outrageous, and uncomfortable? 

I feel lucky to live in a community which challenges me to face these questions head-on, and to have a job which invites me to explore them in every book I read or edit. Whether you’re a shaman, a Buddhist,  a Catholic like Dorothy Day, or something entirely different, the work of love is never-ending. Like a beautiful mountain we set out to climb, it has difficult terrain we couldn’t anticipate when we were only gazing at it from a distance: rocky slopes and perilous crossings that put our hearts and bodies to the test. We do the best we can with the knowledge and resources at our disposal, and seek support and inspiration from the fellow climbers we encounter along the way. Most of the time, the answers are simpler than we make them out to be. Put one foot in front of the other. Bring the groceries. Feed the dogs. The outcomes of these actions aren’t ours to decide.  

This spring, I hope you all find wildflowers on your mountain of love, even as you make your way through the tricky parts—and that the love you share comes back to you many times over, whenever you need it the most.  



Hilary T. Smith 

Senior Editor, Hierophant Publishing 

The Power of Story

Dear Readers,


As long as I can remember, I’ve collected people’s stories. Whether it’s a close friend or a stranger I’ll never see again, there are few experiences I treasure more than sitting up late in a darkened kitchen, or riding a bus through an endless sunrise, listening to someone tell me about their life. I’ll gobble up as many stories as they’ll give me, and ask as many questions as they’ll let me: What did you do next? How did you decide? What did the other person say? How did you find your way back again?

I think my love for stories arose in part due to my very orderly and predictable childhood. My parents were cautious and well-organized, with backup plans for their backup plans. Everything went according to the script; it was extremely rare for anything unexpected, dangerous, or exciting to happen. As an adult, I can appreciate the benefits of so much safety and orderliness, which allowed me to thrive at school and in my extracurricular pursuits. But as a child and teenager, I sometimes felt suffocated by the routine. It seemed to me that all the good stories belonged to other people—people who’d lived more dangerously and contended with higher stakes. I’ve spent most of my life seeking those people out and warming my hands on their stories, like a campfire whose flames I can admire but never quite possess.

Lucky for me, the remote off-grid community in rural Hawaii that I call home is teeming with stories. Anyone who’s visited this place even once has a story about it, and the people who live here never seem to run out. No matter how many times I hear about the afternoon a pair of neighbors blocked the water head so they could gather prawns from the streambed, only to have another neighbor stumble across the makeshift dam and “helpfully” unblock it, I never get bored. Told one after another, the stories form their own hypnotic music, casting a spell of belonging, remembering, and appreciation. I love nothing more than to be surrounded by this music, soaking it in, letting it saturate my consciousness. I hope someday to be part of it, woven into it, my own thread joining all the others and tying me to this place.



A few weeks ago, I was chatting with an acquaintance—a friend of my neighbor’s—when he told me one of the best stories I’ve heard in months. One day, my acquaintance and his friend hiked out to visit my neighbor, since they lacked the truck required to make it down the steep four-wheel drive road to his house. But when they got there, after walking through the forest for a little over an hour, my neighbor wasn’t home. They sat down in his living room and played a board game to pass the time while they waited for him to appear.

Night fell, and my neighbor still hadn’t arrived. Unsure if he was coming at all, his friends decided to hike back to their car—but the only flashlights they could find were almost out of batteries, their light faint and weak. It was a new moon, and the forest was completely dark. “I know,” said one of them, “Let’s turn the flashlights on for a second, then run to the edge of where we saw the light fall.” They set out, turning their flashlights on for just long enough to see the next fifty feet of road, then running through the darkness to the edge of where the flashlight beam had fallen. The whole time, it seemed to my acquaintance that they were being followed through the dark woods by some otherworldly presence—the Night Marchers of Hawaiian legend.

This jog through the darkness seemed to last forever. The thong on somebody’s sandal tore out; a set of keys was dropped and groped for and found again. Had they taken a wrong turn? It hadn’t felt this long when they did it in the daylight. And why did it feel like they were being watched, followed, tracked?

Just when they were about to reach their car, sweaty and unnerved, a pair of headlights appeared. It was my neighbor, coming home in his truck after a long day in town.

Although this isn’t a sad story, I tear up when I think of it. There’s something about those weak and fading flashlight beams, illuminating the road for a split second, that I find deeply moving. I love the image of two friends running through the darkness together, pursued by Night Marchers, lending each other the courage and boldness neither of them would have possessed on their own. There’s an innocence and exuberance to the adventure that reminds me of my favorite children’s books. I imagine some plucky frog or talking mouse turning to his companion and saying, I know! Let’s turn on the flashlights for one second at a time! And of course, there’s the happy ending, when the travelers are safely reunited with their friend.



Many years ago, I took a trip to a remote beach with my partner at the time. Our truck flipped over when he attempted to drive up an extremely steep and tilted off-road track. After crawling out the shattered windows, we sat on the grass in a daze, not speaking. Night was falling, and there was no one around. Wanting to enjoy a day of freedom from the screen, I hadn’t brought my phone, and his had flown out of the truck and been crushed under the side view mirror. We were well and truly stranded.

It took a while for us to recover from the shock, much less formulate a plan. Should we sleep right there, beside the ruined truck, and figure out what to do in the morning? Should we hike out to the main road and flag someone down? The road was so far away, and there was no guarantee that anyone would come along at this hour, much less stop to help us.

I felt distressed by the sight of the wreck, and spooked by the thought of spending a sure-to-be-sleepless night in the grassy dunes above the beach. There was a full moon, and I thought it might feel good to walk—grounding, even. Perhaps we’d get lucky and hitch a ride home, where we could gather the tools and supplies we needed to deal with the mess. My partner didn’t have a better idea so, salvaging what we could from the truck, we set out for the road.

As we limped along the dirt trail, the tall grasses whispering all around us and the ocean below pale with moonlight, I realized this was the most present my partner and I had been in months—with each other, and with life itself. We’d both been moving at a hundred miles an hour, caught up in the stress and chaos of moving to a new place. But the accident forced us to slow down. Walking above the moonlit beach, I felt more at peace than I’d been in months. I felt grateful to be alive—not just in the sense of having survived the accident, but in the awakening of my senses to the warm air, the fragrant grass, and the soft dirt beneath my feet.

Suddenly, I felt deep appreciation for every little thing: the sweater and snacks I’d packed that morning before setting out, the fact that it wasn’t raining. I felt grateful to sit in the back of the white Prius that stopped to pick us up when we finally got to the main road, even though it was going in the opposite direction from where we wanted to go; grateful for the cheap motel where we spent the night, for the shower and little bar of soap, and the paper bag of papayas at the front desk. The “disaster” had shocked me out of my mental preoccupations and returned me to my body. The truck was broken, but my soul had been restored.



As an editor at Hierophant, I work primarily with self-help and spirituality books, where the author’s own story often supports and illustrates their message. I feel grateful to be entrusted with these stories, which are often deeply personal. We’re all running through the dark with only the occasional, precious flash of light to keep us going; we’re all doing our best to make the most of that light, and to do right by the friends with whom we share it. Reading and listening to people’s stories, I’m reminded over and over of the basic truths of life: the importance of humility, generosity, patience, and courage; the value of friendship; the kindness of strangers; the grace of the unexpected. It is a blessing to be reminded of these things.

This summer, may you all hear stories which move and inspire you—and may you all have just enough light to make it to the end of the road.



Hilary Smith

Senior Editor, Hierophant Publishing

Balancing Skepticism and Receptiveness

Dear Readers,


One of the unexpected benefits of living on a ramshackle off-grid homestead in rural Hawaii is that whenever friends come to visit from the “real” world, they can never quite restrain themselves from fixing things, building things, or making the small but necessary changes I never seem to get around to completing on my own. No matter how sincerely I assure them that a visit to my land does not come with work-trade requirements, when they see the jumble of tools and the overgrown garden, few of them can resist the urge to put some small piece of this chaos in order.

They remind me of myself when I’m editing a book—poking around, finding better places for things, telling me I should really add this or get rid of that. Before I know it, they’re swinging hammers, pruning trees, and tackling all that is leaky, wobbly, broken, dangerous, or all of the above. I feel a sense of kinship with the authors whose books I gaily assault with my own fix-it projects, and hope they feel the love in what can otherwise be an overwhelming experience, the same way I feel my friends’ love in the knots tied, screws driven, holes patched, and heavy objects moved around my land.



While my friends are fixing things, they also love to project their own dreams onto the land. Why not have a rope swing over here, and a fire pit there? Why not build a trellis for those air potato vines, or drag in a clawfoot tub? I’ve lost track the number of times I’ve heard the words, “If this was my place, I’d build a tree house in that monkeypod.” (Indeed, it’s a running joke in the valley that every newcomer dreams of building a treehouse in a monkeypod, and you can tell how long someone has been here by the fervor with which they express this desire. Meanwhile, most longtime residents have abandoned their monkeypod treehouses and embraced the convenience of life on the ground.)

One friend who stayed with me recently is an avid bird watcher.

“Why not put a bird feeder in the garden?” he said. “You’ll be able to watch birds all day while you’re writing.”

I was skeptical, and told him so. I already saw plenty of birds every day—eating the seeds off the amaranth plants, perching on the ‘awa stalks, chattering in the bamboo at sunrise and sunset. What did I need a bird feeder for? This wasn’t some suburban backyard where one had to carefully court the visits of wildlife. Besides, the kind of birdseed people used on the mainland would probably get moldy in this wet and jungly part of Hawaii, and who knew if tropical birds would even eat it?

Undeterred by my grumping, my friend cut a thick piece of timber bamboo and piled some lava rocks around its base. He set an old metal platter on top of this rudimentary post, weighing it down with another rock. Next, he cut a few bananas from the rack we’d harvested the previous day, and laid them on the platter along with some papaya skins. I groaned inwardly at his naivety.

“You’ve just made a gecko feeder,” I protested. “And a fruit fly feeder, too.”

I imagined myself cleaning up the rotting mess after he left, the same way I’d discreetly dismantled a few of my other friends’ well-meaning but ill-considered contributions to the land. Sure enough, the first visitors to the bird feeder were the bright green geckos ubiquitous to this part of the island—cute enough in their own right, but hardly the feathery spectacle my friend had in mind. Meanwhile, the birds continued to eat the amaranth seeds and perch on the ‘awa plant, ignoring the bounty of fruit.

I’ve lived here for five years, I thought, feeling amused and a little smug at the correctness of my prediction, but anyone who comes down for a weekend always thinks they know better than me. I thought ruefully of the ways that I, too, had ignored the advice of long-term residents when I first moved onto my land—planting a garden in the middle of a swamp, pitching a tent where falling tree limbs could crush it in a storm, and yes, boldly declaring my intention to build a treehouse in a monkeypod as if no one had ever thought of that before.



What is the correct balance between letting yourself be surprised and inspired by another person’s vision, and gently affirming your own experience, wisdom, and authority? As a writer and editor, I ask myself this question all the time. Sometimes, I have to push back on a chapter or section that just doesn’t work. Other times, I have to ask myself if I’m rejecting an idea out of true discernment, or out of the inability to appreciate its potential. Am I being too deferential, or too headstrong? If I let an author have their way against my better judgement, am I giving their vision the benefit of the doubt, or failing in my sworn duty to stop them from needlessly driving over the edge of a very well-traveled cliff?

As an editor, I have to have some measure of confidence in my own sense of what will make a book successful—otherwise, there would be no reason for me to exist. When an author clings to a beloved-but-unnecessary section or paragraph, I sometimes need to summon the inner strength to say, “Look—I’ve been doing this for years, please trust that you’re in good hands.” In my early years as an editor, wary of hurting authors’ feelings, I sometimes refrained from making changes I knew would benefit their books—ultimately robbing those books of the expertise I’d been hired to provide. Even now, I’m still learning when to insist and when to indulge, when to suggest and when to assert, and when to say, “You want to know why nobody who’s lived here for a long time lives in a monkeypod tree?”



“Maybe the birds don’t like the shiny platter,” said my friend. He scrounged around my scrap wood pile until he found an old wooden cutting board. He set it on top of the bamboo post with a fresh offering of papaya and bananas.

The next morning as we sat outside drinking our tea, they appeared: little green white-eyes, rainbow-feathered leothrixes, and a pair of yellow-billed cardinals with a brown-headed baby in tow. We watched for over an hour as the cardinals pecked at the papayas, feeding pieces to their chick, and as waves of leothrixes carried bits of bananas back to their nests. Although I’d seen all these birds before, I had to admit it was wonderful to watch them close up, for extended periods of time—to see their colors and hear their songs and scoldings. My smugness melting into sheepishness, I thanked my friend for his persistence. In this case, at least, a short-term visitor really did know better than curmudgeonly old me.

Since then, the bird feeder has become a daily source of wonder and companionship. The birds keep me company as I sit on my little porch, tinkering with books for hours at a time. In the weeks since my friend went home, I’ve seen the baby yellow-billed cardinal learn to feed itself, and watched the pale brown feathers on its head slowly turning to brilliant red. It makes me wonder how many of the other ideas I’ve dismissed out of hand would change my life if I let them. I, too, am still learning how to be edited—how to trust in the expertise of others, when appropriate, and how to invite others to draw me out of my tunnel vision instead of remaining cozily ensconced within it.

Living off-grid, I’m surrounded by reminders of the never-ending balance between consulting your own authority and deferring to the wisdom of others. Gazing up at a crooked rafter in my cabin, I remember the moment I wanted to ask my friend to start over with a fresh two-by-four, but refrained out of fear of looking ungrateful. When damp specks of mist blur the pages of my notebook, I feel a twinge of regret for failing to heed my neighbor’s warning that this north-facing deck would get all the weather, even as I’m constantly grateful for the cool shade it provides.

Although there will always be moments of ambiguity, the bird feeder reminds me to always maintain a seed of skepticism towards my own doubting tendencies, an openness to being humbled and amazed—and the ability to see the singing, feathery potential in another person’s ideas, even if the early iterations of that idea are all geckos and fruit flies.

As we move into spring, may you all be blessed with birdsong, no matter where you live—and with friends whose wisdom enriches your life, even if it takes some courage to let them.



Hilary Smith

Senior Editor, Hierophant Publishing


Click here to read Hilary's previous essay, "The Magic of Oneness."

The Magic of Oneness

Dear Reader, 


A short way down the trail from my cabin in rural Hawaii, there is a little old man who lives in a shack with a pig, three dogs, and four cats. Everyone worries that he is getting too frail to live in our remote off-grid community—carrying bags of dog food across the river in a faded green backpack, feeding his pig with overripe breadfruit he hauls down the trail in five-gallon buckets. Although we all lend a hand when we can, none of us are equipped to give him the kind of full-time care he’s getting closer and closer to needing. 

A few weeks ago, he had a serious health crisis. My neighbor heard him shouting and called an ambulance, then lifted him into a wheelbarrow and rolled him all the way to the river, where the paramedics would be waiting to pick him up. That evening as we sat around under the monkeypod tree, my neighbors and I all wondered if he would come back. Perhaps he would go live in town, which was surely the right move for a person in his fragile state of health. 

But just a few days later, I was on my way to check the water lines when I ran into him on the trail, a heavy bag of clothes and groceries in each hand. He was skinnier than ever, with pipe cleaners for legs and white hair sticking out from under his ballcap. He reminded me so much of the stray cat that had made its way back to my land even after I’d driven it three miles and several water crossings away. I stopped and offered to carry his bags, and he readily accepted. Even as I made this automatic offer, I felt a twinge of weariness—I was already so tired after a morning of working on my land in the hot sun, and still had much to do. After carrying the bags all the way to my neighbor’s place, I would have to return the way I had come and climb up the waterfall, which was my original errand. Although my body had extended itself reflexively to my neighbor’s aid, my mind began to protest at the cost. 

Yet when I picked up my neighbor’s bags and felt the weight of them transfer from his body to my own, something miraculous happened: I had a sudden, visceral awareness that this transfer was taking place not between two distinct beings, but within a single organism. I wasn’t depleting “my” energy reserves—I was experiencing a kind of homeostasis, with energy flowing naturally to the place it was needed the most. Although my mind grumbled after the fact, my body had carried out the gesture automatically, the way certain trees will automatically send sugars to their less-healthy neighbors through roots and fungal networks underground. 

Later, I wondered: did I stop and help my neighbor because I perceived the two of us to be a single organism, or did that brief and striking shift in perception arise from the physical act of making his burden my own? 



Living off-grid, you can’t help but become aware of energy: where it comes from, where it goes, and the many ways it is used, recycled, and transformed. Light comes into the solar panels and the tool batteries greedily consume it, snug in their plastic chargers beside the power strip. 

The energy stored in the tool batteries then goes into turning screws, cutting wood, and mowing grass. You spread the grass clippings in the garden to build the soil, and before you know it you have papayas, pumpkins, and sugar cane to feed your hungry body at the end of the day. 

You scheme about ways to save energy—a more efficient light bulb, a lower-wattage computer monitor. Keeping your tools in a place that doesn’t require you to climb up and down a ladder fifteen times a day, which will cause you to burn fewer calories, which will make your stash of pumpkins last a couple of days longer, which means you won’t have to carry a pumpkin all the way home from your neighbor’s garden half a mile away, which means you will have more time and energy left over to finally fix your chainsaw, which means you can help your neighbor cut up the windfall bamboo, thus repaying the debt of energy left over from the time he helped you fix your solar system. 

You notice the ways your neighbors are constantly transferring their energy to you—through their labor, their gifts of food and other resources, their encouragement on hard days. You transfer energy back in the form of your own gifts and words of encouragement, and the strength of your own body applied to a common task. The flow is organic, spontaneous, and unplanned. There is no ledger, yet all debts get paid; no accounting, and yet all that which is depleted gets restored. 



As an editor at Hierophant, I don’t frame roofs, cook meals, or harvest vegetables with the authors I work with, but there is nevertheless an aspect of shared labor, and therefore of community. When editing a manuscript, I receive the gift of the author’s wisdom; at the same time, I apply myself to the project of helping that author express their wisdom in the clearest possible way. Because many of the books I work with deal with spirituality, there is also a sense of chipping away at a shared mystery, and becoming part of one long chain of human endeavor to understand and celebrate the divine. 

Recently, while editing a book chapter in which an author was describing a significant event in her life, I had an experience not terribly unlike the moment when I picked up my neighbor’s grocery bags. Gazing into space, as I do at regular intervals when I’m writing or editing, I tuned into the emotions the author was describing, allowing them to play out in my own body. As I pondered the idea she was trying to express and toyed with different ways of expressing it, I felt a sense of oneness with the work in which I forgot that an “author” and “editor” existed, and instead felt myself to be part of a unified field of humanity, all working on these deep problems of life, all shouldering the burden of being human together. 

Although there are practical reasons for putting an author’s name on a book and giving that book its own title and cover art, this is really for the sake of convenience. As don Jose Ruiz likes to say, “We’re all working for the same boss.” Just as flowers come out of the earth, ideas come out of the great pool of human history. A flower couldn’t exist without the earth, and a book couldn’t exist without thousands of years of humans thinking, feeling, searching, and dreaming. Whether or not you ever have your name on a book, you’ve probably helped write one just by being alive. All labor is shared, whether we realize it or not—and realizing it can make us feel happier, more grateful, and more alive. 



I’ll never forget the time I carpooled to a meeting in town with several of my neighbors. We were sitting in the bleachers of the high school gym, listening to some engineers give a presentation about plans for our road, when I happened to glance down. My feet and shins, I noticed, were caked with dried mud—the natural consequence of hiking through several streams on my way to the car. I rarely remember to rinse off my legs before going to town, and was feeling a little embarrassed at being seen this way by the town folks, when I saw that my neighbor’s feet were also brown with mud. Turning my head to look down the length of the bleacher, I saw that we all had the same dusty streaks on our calves and dried mud between our toes.  

The sight of so many muddy legs nearly moved me to tears. I felt a sense of comfort, belonging, and something akin to pride. My neighbors knew the weight of a wheelbarrow, the value of a pig, a pumpkin, or a five-gallon bucket, the sound of rain on a metal roof. They knew what it was like to sit in your chair in a stupor at the end of a long day, too tired even to read; they knew the night-blooming flowers and the moon. When one of us was sick or weak, the rest of us didn’t carry that person’s burdens for them—we just carried them, period, because they were there to be carried, and we weren’t many beings, but one. 

Readers, as we transition from spring to summer, may you all be supported by the energy of sun, earth, and community; and may your roots feed others, and be fed in return. 



Hilary Smith 

Senior Editor, Hierophant Publishing 


Click here to read Hilary's previous essay, "Hitchhiking to Freedom."