Being in the woods is a way of being at home. It is hard to do this feeling justice with words. You are surrounded by lives, lives that have seen the good and the bad. Lives that don’t look as if they’re swayed like human ones, even if that’s an illusion.
But eventually nature sends you home. The breeze gets cold, the mosquitoes come out, the grass gets itchy. The forest eventually reminds you that you have people to go back to.
“The woods are lovely, dark and deep./But I have promises to keep,/and miles to go before I sleep,/and miles to go before I sleep.”
Coming back home for the summer after a year in college was hard for me. The beginning especially. I would go out barefoot on the driveway, still warm from the long-gone sun, and stare up at the familiar stars that I had seen with the people I missed so much. But it was like scratching a mosquito bite–it felt good and necessary in the moment, but in the long run did little to make me stop itching. But too much sky had never hurt anyone. I continued the summer saying goodnight to the sky.
I remember the precise spot where I was standing when I was told my dad had cancer.
When I managed to free myself from being rooted to the spot, I raced across the wood floor of the hallway, up the stairs, and to my room. I had a huge encyclopedia that I’d claimed from when my dad’s parents moved out of their house to a retirement community. My dad had colon cancer. I flipped through the sturdy volume, looking for how serious colon cancer was. It calmed me slightly, but didn’t provide me with many answers.
I never stopped to wonder what tree had perished so that I could flip through paper pages to find the likelihood of my daddy dying.
If the willow trees across the swale behind my house had still been there, they would have been swaying.
Smell is something you don’t notice you’ve missed until it comes back to you. It is harder to conjure up, even if you do remember–-harder than picturing a face or imagining a voice. It is harder for me to remember the crackle of the smell of leaves at our church’s fall festival until I go home on break in autumn. Of all the things I miss about a loved one far away, it is not until I catch the smell of them that I truly realize what I’ve been trying to describe about them the whole time I’ve spent missing them. Their scent hits me with a shock of familiarity. I guess smell is something that doesn’t leave you, even when the memory of it sometimes gets swept to the corner of your mind.
Behind my house there is a swale. Early on I discovered that this was a uncommon term for what most people would refer to as a large drainage valley. If it rained torrentially, the swale would fill with water until it became a river, which my brother and I would paddle around in using our inflatable kayak. We used tree branches to measure how deep it was in the middle, as a sort of natural yardstick.
One day I came home from school to discover the willow trees gone. Chopped down with nothing but sawdust remains. I took a piece home with me, but didn’t know how gauge storms after that.
I work in the Interlibrary Loan department on my college campus. As a result, a lot of books pass through my hands, which suits me just fine. I love the smell of books, especially new ones. When no one’s looking, I often breathe in the scent of whatever book I happen to be handling. They each have a distinct sort of flavor, probably the result of certain combinations of types of paper and ink. If this were a novel, I’m sure my character would be able to distinguish the specific ingredients that contribute to each smell.
If I could create a line of perfume, I would probably choose to create ones that smell like the pages of books. Either that, or the smell of freshly baked bread. These are curl-up-on-the-couch smells, smells that say ‘home’. A way of carrying comfort with you all day.
Things that are rough: my daddy’s beard, sandpaper from our garage, the bark of the maple tree in the backyard. Things that are smooth: the walls of my bedroom, the breeze through the window the bark of the birch tree in the front yard. Things that are bumpy: the back of my Nana’s hands. Things that are flat: harp strings after not being tuned recently, the pages of a book.
My faith grows in rings. Among the rings are marks, milestones. Being baptized. Getting to join my parents at adult Bible study when I didn’t want to go to Sunday School anymore. Being confirmed. Coming to college.
There is growth in between those, too. Some rings are wide; a good growth year. Others are narrow–drifting, distracted years. But one gets added each year, pockmarked and all. A tree of life.
When climbing a tree, the first thing you really encounter is the trunk.
The branches follow pretty quickly after that, but really the trunk is first. It could be sticky with sap. It could be smooth and hard to find purchase on with your feet. If there’s too much trunk before the branches start, you might not be able to climb the tree at all. You may have to move on to another.
Sometimes it takes me awhile to figure out how to go about climbing a tree. Once I’ve found a route, though, I feel much more connected to that particular tree. I know we have an understanding. I have something to fall back on, and a way to reach the stars.