I went to the woods because I wished to kill my husband, to front his head into a glove compartment and kick it closed a few times, to see if I could not learn to push him down a hill, and not, when it came time to smack him upside the head with a heavy shoe, discover that I had not smacked hard enough.
|Three or four inches of fresh snow|
It was a rough morning and I needed to escape.
All week I've been grouchily kicking myself for choosing a place 50 minutes away from home, a place which cannot just be popped into and out of. This time has to be scheduled, and weather is a factor, particularly this week, with all of my schoolwork. What kind of buffoon chooses a location that requires a half-day of travel?
I hit the road, only to realize I'd forgotten my gloves. (Last time it was my hat.) Today was 16 degrees. Son of a.... I got off the interstate. I found a Dollar Store. I spent too long at the checkout line staring at a magazine about America's worst serial killers and four people jumped in line ahead of me. In the car I realized I had to do some smart phone banking to cover the check I floated this morning. My nose began to bleed and I'll be the first to admit I stuck my finger up there to see where the blood was coming from, only to be spotted doing so at an intersection.
That's a federal offense, by the way. Check floating, not nasal inspection. Both, however, are terribly gauche.
So much work. So much stress.
I was a real jerk.
Today, I epitomized our problem. Our instant-gratification nature-on-demand society holds an umbrella over me, too. Did Thoreau ever just want to get to the damn woods already? I don't know if I wanted to get out there so I could do my required nature thing and get home or if I wanted to get out there so I could drop my "baggage" down in the driveway and breathe. Perhaps both.
I really blew the first half of the experience, proving myself inescapably human. The difference is that I'm writing about it, rather than glossing over the ugly parts.
Excuse me ma'am, your transcendentalism seems questionable. We'll need to do a Thoreau examination of your methods.
Buried under the snow, I couldn't see the ice or determine its thickness, but it was not to be trusted. Since Frick and Frack the canine stooges were with me, a hike in the woods made far more sense. I had a Doberman once, and a Corgi, and when the Corgi fell through the ice and was subsequently plucked to safety, the Dobie had to go investigate the hole and fell in herself.
|Diamonds in the snow|
Hiking in the dead of winter feels effortless. No brambles snag your clothing; no bushwhacking required. I hiked where I wanted, in circles and curves, through the deserted church camp and on to the 4H camp. Nugget, who is fleecy and soft, quickly developed ice balls in her paws, and stopped every hundred yards to tear at them. At the 4H camp I found a bench and sat in the sunshine and listened.
Last time the hum of air traffic and fracking machinery volleyed around the lake. Today, perhaps due to the cold, the frackers uttered nothing whatsoever. As I walked I heard chickadees and crows, and several times a yipping sound that could have been anything from bird to coyote to shnauzer. Step by step I thought about my rotten attitude this morning, and how it didn't matter one hoot whether I arrived with a scowl or a smile; the lake didn't care. I thought about this blog entry, and how it would invariably be colored by sarcasm and grump if I didn't get my head out of my posterior. And most of all, I felt as though I'd failed to be a nature writer today, suddenly considering that the lens of human emotion is the most vital ingredient in a piece, whether positive or negative. What we do to nature may not be natural, but we are natural, and my craptastic mood was too.
|The remnants of the Magnificent|
I saw the Magnificent Beech Tree today. It's dead. I know the tree lived its life and toppled in a storm, very naturally. The trunk snapped and the remaining spear is 15 feet tall. Carvings--why do you little bastards do that?--are all over the trunk. I circled the tree today and touched it, and then I noticed dozens and dozens of woodpecker holes. The tree died, the bugs moved in, and so did the peckers.
|Evidence of pecker activity|
And if the Magnificent Beech Tree can take its place in the forest web, I can ask no more of Nature. The tree continues to serve and support, and only my silly tendency to anthromorphize it tears at my heart. It's The Giving Tree, but this tree gave to the forest, not to some greedy man. Oops. Anthropomorphizing again.
I began to think about children and nature, and the importance of establishing a connection as young as possible. When I was a child, the tree truly was magnificent to me; now, though I see a stump I can still picture the tree in its glory and always will. But if I brought an outsider with me, an adult, they'd see a stump. Nothing more. We must create sacred spaces for our children so that they will always have a Magnificent Beech Tree, and a connection to the space around it. I don't expect anyone to look at my photo and see what I see. I would not expect you to feel anything for the stump. We cannot forge connections that do not exist. Weave your childrens' story with that of a specific place, as Barbara Kingsolver does in "The Memory Place". It will root in their soul and flourish, and neither pollution nor degradation can wipe the memory of their own Magnificent Beech Tree. I hope, when I'm an old gray goat, that my kids will fight for Piedmont.
As if on cue, as I dictated these thoughts into my phone I came upon the equally-magnificent frog pond in the woods, which in reality is just a depression in the forest, a vernal pool that remains naught but muck over the summer. And behind the cabin I stumbled into the remnants of my old swingset. They seemed like echoes, and they seemed as fresh as this morning.
|My very, very old swingset, a la 1979.|
Back in the house I had to call my dad to ask about putting antifreeze in the toilets, and the spell cast by the memories of the beech tree was broken. I drove home listening to Sirius XM 80's on 8 (continuing to revisit my formative years), and the moon hovered in front of my windshield the entire way.
I refused to call my husband to tell him I was alive.
|The church camp|