“It is not so much for its beauty that the forest makes a claim upon men’s hearts, as for that subtle something, that quality of air that emanation from old trees, that so wonderfully changes and renews a weary spirit.” – Robert Louis Stevenson
I haven’t left the house much in the past month, and I notice that when I’m at home I can’t escape my lists and chores. I just can’t relax at home yet, and my days are an endless tapestry of not getting enough done. How will I ever be able to juggle the demands of my job when I go back to work Monday, and kids, and keep up the house and yard, and still maintain some sanity? So now I’m a blur of action, jumping from one unfinished task to another. The stress level is through the roof, and I’m getting short with the kids at night when I’m exhausted and they don’t want to shut off the video games and brush their teeth.
So a trip to the woods is needed, I declare. Nature and being outside have always been a salve for my soul, and this year my nature deficit is at an all time high. The kids eagerly agree to the trip, too, and it will be great to unplug from our electronic tethers and spend some time at a slower pace. That’s the plan, anyway…
Noon – Of course, getting ready for a camping trip has the immediate effect of increasing my workload; packing and making food lists and gathering equipment and feeding the cat. Deb and I had our roles ironed out to share this burden, but I am overwhelmed.
Afternoon – I should be more excited than I am as we set up camp; something doesn’t feel right. The kids offer to help with the camp chores – I know they are trying to lessen dad’s burden, too, and I am grateful. But soon they are off and running, as they should be, enjoying the freedom of their bikes and the fresh air. Alone in camp, I find the tent still has pine needles and red dirt in it from our last family trip, to Utah last year; the scents bring back a flood of memories and tears. I am missing my traveling companion and best friend.
Evening – Our simple meal is missing mom’s touch. The kids don’t seem to notice, their stomachs are just happy with the re-hydrated nutrients. I forgot dessert, too, and pillows, dammit, and I set up our sleeping quarters at the wrong end of the tent. The boys don’t care, so I try to shake my melancholy by walking through camp while they whiz up and down on their bikes. But it is mostly couples in camp; I am lonely.
Night – The boys are cuddled together across the campfire from me. In the orange glow we are back in Joshua Tree National Park, and Jake and Trevor are nestled in their mothers’ arms while she reads them Harry Potter. We started our campfire that night using Deb’s hair as kindling; it was her first round of chemo, and we offered her hair to the desert gods. The fire protected my children from the lonely, scary desert, from the coyotes howling all around us, and wrapped them in the warmth of their mother’s love. How can you ever replace that? I am sad, incredibly sad.
Midnight – A presence wakes me, calls me from the tent; it is calm, peaceful, otherworldly, like an apparition at the fuzzy far edges of the senses. I can see only the darkened forest, enveloped in fog, bathed in the silvery glow of the moon. Nothing moves, it is incredibly still, the only sounds are the katydids and cicadas; but something is here. As a venture further away from the tent, something shifts, and the scene becomes eerie; I think of the kids and head back to the tent. Was it only the dreamlike trance of someone who hasn’t slept in a month? I am scared.
Sunrise – Morning, glorious morning, today trumpeted by a murder of crows, two of which sound like someone is stepping on a duck, according to Trevor! Daybreak is always my favorite part of the day, and I enjoy the birdsong and solitude of camp while the boys sleep. I am relieved.
Morning – The boys rouse, the sausage sizzles, the coffee steams and the sun burns off the dew that drips from the canopy. Everything is fresh. There is laughter, hearty laughter, as us boys share raunchy jokes, a simple meal, the freedom of the woods and the pleasure of each others company. I am joyous.
Forest – We take a morning hike through a stand of virgin hemlock along a river. It is beautiful, even the boys comment on it. The presence of the old ones is palpable, the pulse of life, layer upon layer of life, is affirming. We breathe it in and drink deep of the wisdom of the forest. The recent rains have brought out a cornucopia of mushrooms, beautiful mushrooms of all shapes and sizes, and we stop to admire their beauty. Mushrooms, the forest janitors, who clean the woods of decay and death, who keep it healthy for the individuals that still thrive. The mushrooms remind me that death is a part of life, a natural part of life; there is nothing to fear of death, it is okay. I am at peace.
A broad-winged hawk sits above our camp when we return. It is preparing to leave, also, to begin its journey to central and South America. The boys and I are preparing for our journey, too, and all are thankful for the bounty of this forest…