This week, I’m writing a series about things I love. Here’s the first installment…
“The woods are lovely dark and deep.” – Robert Frost
“I think that I shall never see a poem as lovely as a tree.” – Joyce Kilmer
I feel lucky that where I grew up, the forest began where my backyard ended. A winding trail cut through those woods, and I spent many hours walking up and back, exploring, playing, daydreaming and listening to the sound of the dry leaves crunching under my feet.
Outside the woods, an orchard divided the land between my house and my grandparent’s place. Apple, pear and cherry trees grew there. Fresh fruit was within arm’s reach, and what fell to the ground provided food for birds, squirrels, rabbits and deer. I even saw a fox and a black bear in that orchard but didn’t notice them sampling any fruit.
My family planted a row of cedars along the road between the two houses. They were spaced out evenly and they descended in height from left to right, like a set of stairs. As trees go, they were juveniles and were still growing when I left home years ago.
A huge oak grew over my grandparent’s driveway, it’s branches always reaching closer and closer to the house and requiring frequent trimmings. And there were plenty of smaller trees around for climbing and hiding out. In or out of the woods, there were trees all around me, and they provided endless enjoyment.
When I’d walk the wooded trail, there was always something new to discover. Off to one side of the deeper end of the path, there were pieces of abandoned farm equipment, burnt-orange with rust. I always wondered how it got back there, but never bothered to ask. The mystery of it was more interesting.
I also found a vast assortment of old bottles and jars half buried in the dirt. Again, I had no idea where they came from, but I’d often entertain myself by holding a bottle in one hand like a club, throwing a jar in the air with the other hand and smashing it with a fierce swing of the bottle. My parents would’ve been rightly horrified if they’d known what I was up to out there, but by some miracle, I managed to shatter a ton of glass without getting cut or catching a shard in the eye.
The trail ended well back into the woods, and I’d sometimes keep going, pushing in a little further than I’d been before. The trees seemed to get closer together, so I’d work my way around the thick trunks, wading through deeper and deeper piles of dead leaves. I’d walk on until the twinge of fear in my stomach – the primordial fear of getting lost – would grow too strong. Then I’d turn back and vow to take a few more steps the next time. I tried to imagine where the woods came out or if they ever actually ended, but I never found out.
I’ve lived in many different places since then, but I always feel most comfortable somewhere where I can at least see trees by looking out the window. My ideal setting is still a place where I don’t have to walk too far to be surrounded by them.
I don’t consider myself and outdoorsman, but I find being in the woods comforting and relaxing. It still feel like I did years ago as I roamed that trail.
Trees seem to have their own distinct personalities, reflected in their varied sizes and shapes. Tall, fat, skinny, gnarly, smooth, straight, crooked, cute, scary, some with muscular branches, some thin like whips and others like the tips of paint brushes against the sky. Some seem to stretch toward the heavens, while others bend back down toward the earth.
Trees can be majestic, like the redwoods, or showy, like the weeping willow. They can be stark or ornate. They can even be haunting, like the ones in the paintings of Caspar David Friedrich:
Whatever they are, trees are fascinating to me, and I can’t help but love them.
Trees are nature’s living poems. When I need to clear my head or fill my soul, there’s nothing better than to spend a little time walking among them.