Oddly enough, some folks feel absolute terror at the prospect of being lost in the woods. Think of The Blair Witch Project or Deliverance. Without a sense of bearings, of direction, or of civilization, many folks think of the woods and see the forest for every single one of its trees…looming over them with absolute malevolence. Think of the Ents in The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (pretty scary looking despite ultimately proving benevolent) or the trees in The Evil Dead (especially the “rape” scene!). Yes, with nothing but wood and foliage on every side, with almost no chinks in the wall or signposts for how to get beyond it, humans may well be justified in dreading The Big Bad Woods.
Ironic, this dread is, when it comes to my fellow environmentalists. After all, we are “treehuggers,” right? But, honestly, how many of you have actually gone out and hugged a tree lately, hmmm? Do you have bits of bark clinging to your khakis? Do you encircle your brows with fresh-plucked boughs like some ancient Roman Caesar, hmmm? Do you have tree books and posters and T-shirts and coffee mugs and figurines cluttering up your living quarters, hmmm? I bet you do not! Pshaw! What kind of a treehugger are you, anyway?
Some people dream about getting away on a long cruise or flying to some tropical paradise as the ultimate getaway. Think Fantasy Island…you know, Ricardo Montalban welcoming you with his suave suntanned voice and Tattoo shouting, “De plane! De plane!” like some mad imp. Others simply want to relax in the comfort of home with a cold drink close at hand, the big screen HDTV in full splendor, and the kids taking care of all the chores. No one dreams of hanging out with the trees; no one fantasizes of being lost in the woods.
No one except me. Fool that I am, I seek out the uncivilized solitude of the woods. I dream of hanging out with the towering trees and all the wild things that cohabit with them in their domain. I never fantasize about Ricardo and Tattoo and drinks in coconuts with little umbrellas. Nay, my fantasies are of the great god Pan and his band of dryads and dancing with them on a carpet of fallen leaves while the wood thrush pipes its haunting songs.
Do I run away from the woods or, when buried amidst the trees, do my absolute best to run out of them? Nay nay! I love to wander my way towards the woods and do my best to get deep, deep within them. With a little (or, even better, a lot of) spare time and a decent stand, I need no prodding to go bask in the power of trees.
Oak, poplar, pine, sycamore, redbud, cherry, apple, pear, dogwood, birch, beech, cypress, juniper, walnut, chestnut, pecan, maple, redwood, sequoia…it really does not matter so long as it has a trunk, branches, leaves, and lots and lots of friends!
Somewhere in the nooks and crannies of my brain, I know of the many wonderful things that trees do for the environment: trapping carbon dioxide, making oxygen, preventing drought, securing soil, providing homes to wildlife…. But in the sinews of my heart, the marrow of my bones, the globules of my blood, and the acid chains of my genes, I feel a kinship with the trees. I feel myself at home when standing in their shadows, when wending between their trunks proud and tall. I feel an ever-urgent urge to get lost amongst them, give them all a big old hug, and soak up their secrets and wisdom. Prick my finger or tap my veins and you may well find sap flowing through them.
I have nightmares now and then about forests being felled for toilet paper and tissues and mountains of junk mail. And when I wake, too, I cannot help but fret about the rainforests being razed for agriculture, fuel, or development.
But in these times of trouble, what do, what must I do? I get out and hug the trees all around me. I find a path into the woods in the hopes that I will wander far, far off of it. I enter the woods and eat the bread jammed in my pockets rather than leaving a trail of crumbs to find my way back out again like poor old Hansel and Gretel.
Sure, I could easily sit inside thinking about the lovely trees. I could even get a bit more active and do some things to help keep them standing proudly across the world. But besides all that, I really just want to get out and lose myself amidst the trees all around me. For when I do, I seem to find something deeper, larger, and more powerful than my self. When I get into the woods and give a little love to a few big trees, I seem to find something that helps to root me in the rich nourishment of the Earth.
So you can have your home on the range where the buffalo roam and the skies are not cloudy all day. Just give me a woodland nook and a bed of leaves and leave me be with the towering trees.
[Author’s Disclaimer: This post should be read in the proper spirit–part ecstatic celebration, part flight of fancy, part general commentary.]