It’s December, and the rains have come. From the window over my writing desk I look out on a dismal scene of grey skies, muddy backyard, dead leaves smeared across my porch waiting to take me down with a step. Inside there is tea, slippers, incense and Leonard Cohen. Easy to convince yourself to stay in on days like this. The forest will still be there in the Spring, right?
Ha! Bear and I are (mostly) native Cascadians, and are not easily cowed by a little water. The past two Sundays we’ve ventured out into the cold wet world. Because you know what? The forest is beautiful in the rain. In the city, the monotonous grey cloud cover seems to reflect the dull concrete, the blinking traffic lights, the piles of decaying leaves in the gutters… the wet feet, the runny noses, the chilled fingertips. It’s depressing. Seattle has the highest suicide rate in the country for a reason. But in the forest, everything is green. There is no concrete. The same rain that makes the city so dismal makes the forest glow. The water beads up on the leaves of the trees and ferns, reflecting emerald jade olive drab chartreuse, a subtle kaleidoscope of photosynthesis and life. Everything is vibrant and wet… the pleasure of the rooted forest creatures taking in the moisture is palpable. You can feel the forest breathing.
The first Sunday, Bear and I parked off NW Aspen and took the Aspen Trail up into the park. It was raining, but just slightly, and the tree cover kept most of the moisture off of us. There is something especially pleasing about the turns and curves of the Aspen Trail… it goes slightly up and over a number of ridges and looks down into a ravine as it rises and falls. Just a few minutes into the hike, we came up a small hill and at the top the forest suddenly opened out in front of us. I lost the feeling of being in a neighborhood and something in my consciousness shifted. I was aware of this huge expanse of trees and hills and creeks in front of me. We could roam all day… for days… if we wanted to. It was a very palpable shift in my body, from civilized city human to feral forest creature, and it felt familiar…
As a child, my family lived for a few years on Whidbey Island, near Seattle. I think I was 9 when we moved there. We lived in a big brown house on the edge of the woods. I don’t think my Dad wanted to rent this house… I believe it was a bit of a drive from the Navy base where he was stationed in Oak Harbor… but I vividly remember the day we went to look at this house for rent. I got so excited that I begged, begged for us to move there. There was something about the house that felt like belonging. I can still remember that feeling of excitement and homecoming. The house was big and rambling with porches overlooking the woods and big brown timbers and rhododendrons. It was wild. I wanted it and bless my father’s heart, we moved in.
I remember that forest more vividly than I remember most of the children from the neighborhood that I would play with. I remember days and days running wild through the woods. It started at the edge of our porch and, to my child’s mind, went on forever and ever. We played endless among the trees. Got poison oak and ivy. Stung by nettles. Learned that the seed pods of ferns soothed the sting. We tried to be rangers and ‘Indians’, learn to walk through the woods without making noise. Created forts and club houses out of fallen trees. The forest a world more real to me than that of home and school. The child-knowing that everything is alive and the world was a place I belonged to.
And when it got too dark to play outside? Books. Books about magic, faeries, unicorns, wild places, feral creatures. The Egypt Game. Narnia. Solatia. Redwall. Avonlea. In my favorites, the wild world and the forest were central. In the books, a blurring of the lines between ‘real’ and ‘magic’. And in the daytime, no difference to me between the magic of the books and the magic of the actual forest.
There was a lot of sadness and heartbreak in my life at that time. Those books and that forest… they were a safe place and a sacred place. Walking through the woods with Bear is a homecoming, over and over again.