I have lived in the woods for over twelve years now. I was afraid of them for eleven. I loved being surrounded by a ring of green acres deep on all sides, but I never went into the woods except occasionally in the winter when the understory lays shriveled and dormant and the snakes and ticks were hibernating. The things I didn’t know about the woods were extensive. I didn’t know grass grew naturally beneath the trees in some places. I didn’t know the variety of flowers to be found in virtually every season except winter. I didn’t know how many waves of spring ephemerals there were. I had seen pictures of trilliums but never one in real life until this past spring.
I lived on the edge of a whole world and never ventured further.
Until I did.
Why do people fear the woods? Or why do people not remember how to coexist with the other inhabitants of this planet. This theme comes up in shows and movies because as the Doctor once said: “The forest is mankind’s nightmare.” (Doctor Who, “The Forest of the Night”).
“The forest is mankind’s nightmare.” Is it? Or have we just collectively forgotten our roots (pun intended)?
I certainly had forgotten my roots. I used to live out in the country on what had once been farmland. So it wasn’t super forested as such, but there were trees coming back and there were treelines between the fields. Two separate creeks ran across the property we lived on, dividing the land neatly into thirds.
My brother and I used to tramp beyond the first creek to the second. We built an extensive fort on the banks of that creek, followed its call up and down stream, under arching brambles that formed green or brown tunnels depending on the season. We tramped paths through the field grasses and I drew maps labeling all the places we’d named.
We used to drive up into the blue ridge and hike. I have drunk unfiltered water from remote streams, something I wouldn’t dare to do now, and eaten apples fallen from forgotten trees planted near trails, their taste going somehow wild compared to the tamed ones sitting in tidy rows at the store.
And then we moved to Colorado where I walked on frozen lakes, moon jumped down the great sand dunes, dipped my toes in freezing alpine lakes high in the Rockies, and was struck by lightning on the top of Pikes Peak.
Somehow in the intervening years, I grew tame. I went to college and grad school, worked in the city, walked on the beach, sure, but I forgot my love of the wild places of this world. And I forgot the wild parts of myself.
And I think that is at the root of our fear of the woods. We’ve forgotten the wild places within ourselves, or the events of our lives have forced us to tame them, to contain them, to restrain them until we are pruned versions of ourselves and have forgotten our true forms.
I’m not saying that everyone needs to decide they love camping or backpacking or hiking. I’m saying we all need to think about the ways in which this world, society, family, events have pruned us into beings our younger selves wouldn’t recognize. And while interests change and things shift, I think all of us could do with fully reclaiming our younger selves and thinking about things we may have lost along the way that need to be regrown.
What do you want to be when you grow up? It’s never too late to revisit that question.
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