There are people who love the beach. There are people who love the mountains. I can absolutely appreciate the beauty and presence that captures the admiration of so many. It is awe-inspiring to sit on the beach, gazing out at the horizon past the crashing waves. It is breathtaking to experience the majesty of mountains drawing the eye to the thin place between the earth and sky.
Even so, I am a person who feels most enraptured by the beauty of the woods.
I didn’t live in the woods as a kid, but I had a view of a nice Midwestern woods, out past the farm field that bordered the backyard of my childhood home. My dad knew the farmer and had obtained permission for us to walk out in the field and woods, so sometimes we would try to go back and explore among the trees. It was pretty far to walk all the way back to the treeline, so we this wasn’t a frequent excursion, but I remember being drawn to what seemed like a wilderness and enchanted by the spongy moss that carpeted much of the earth around the trees when we did make the trek.
I also grew up camping for vacations–the only way we could really afford to do any travel–and these trips often included hiking forays in wooded areas. I have fond memories of these times, but it wasn’t until I was grown that I became consciously aware of the sense of home I experience among trees.
My husband and I started hiking together because we want to see as many National Parks as we can. Most of those public lands hold spectacular natural wonders. Yet I’ve realized over the years that I love simply being in a patch of trees and appreciating them, whether we are in majestic far-away places or simply the groves growing around the lake in our local state park.
We are fortunate to have woods that cross our property and I visit them as much as possible. I notice how they change over the seasons and try to embrace the changes as they come. There is a group of three large, old oak trees I visit regularly, greeting them with a “Hello, friends” each time I make it to where they live. There is one in particular I am drawn to. I think her name is Eve, even though I have no rational basis for thinking of her by this name.
When I’m visiting “our” woods, I often wonder about the people long ago who walked among the ancestors of the trees I see now, back when humans lived reciprocally with the land and no one thought they owned it. I pause and breathe deeply, trying to appreciate the way that I am breathing out what the trees need just like they are exhaling what I need.
I make an effort to stand still and listen to whatever birds may be sharing their song or to watch for whatever creature may venture into my line of sight if I am still long enough. I place my hand on Eve’s trunk and bless her, thinking of how she was here long before me and will still be here in some form after I’m gone, even if that form is giving back to some of the saplings I can see sprouting up in the distance as I lean against her.
Being in the woods helps me pay attention. They remind me that there is reciprocity and abundance inherent to the earth that it’s easy to lose sight of in our individualistic, market-driven culture. They remind me that there is something beautiful about every season. And they always have a welcome for any of us who are willing to wander in and see what they can teach us.