For the first time in so long I found myself in the woods today. I spent time there so often in my youth. Camping, hunting (always with due respect of the prey). So many hours did I spend there, sometimes just walking to absorb, seemingly by osmosis, the glory of Utopian simplicity. The air I breathed then seemed somehow healthier and more valuable and ironically, for that reason, taken more for granted. My hearing was so much better then and every little rustling, every sonic interaction with the otherwise God-like silence the tableau offered was picked up and appreciated. The forest could be a glossary of paradoxes and contradictions that so pleasingly smote the senses. I remember thinking how the dampened mulch of leaves and loam could stink so good.
I wanted this all back today so I got my lazy old ass up and out and went for a walk into the verdant outback, literally, out back of the house where I have a rented second story flat. Only a few yards into Paradise all the memories of my youth fed by the senses, especially olfactory, came flooding tsunami-like and I was transported to simpler times and loving it. I walked until I could no longer see the house and for a few minutes more, then I stopped and listened. I found a fallen log and sat. I am deaf as a rock in my old age and God, jokester that he is, has seen fit to season that deafness with the harpy annoyance of tinnitus. Here in the sanctity of the Pennsylvania wildwood none of that mattered. There was quietude that in its wholeness seemed to banish even the cloying humming and ringing that usually accompanies my every waking moment. That all seemed a thing of the past as the unmistakable sound of a stream came babbling its way to me and I was reintroduced to a Tennyson verse that I’d not thought of for years:
“I chatter, chatter, as I flow,
To join the brimming river,
For men may come and men may go,
But I go on forever.”
That, coupled with the perfect temperature and conspicuous lack of the usual contingent of buzzing flies and gnats that so often plague an otherwise idyllic summer’s trek in the woods, was lulling and soothing me like no healer’s balm can.
My reverie was tickled awake by the subtle sound of something moving over my left shoulder and I cautiously cast my gaze in that direction, only to be rewarded by the sight of four doe and two fawns, just losing their spots, grazing calmly amidst the mountain laurel. The deer in our region are protected and consequently much less skittish and tamer than in unprotected areas. I have no doubt that they were aware of my presence for I was directly upwind from them, yet they continued their snacking as if I were as inconsequential as a slug. I was never so happy to reflect on myself as such and the day could not have been more perfect.
My unexpected company began slowly to move off in the direction of the brook that I could now smell with the sudden shift in the breeze. As they trickled silently into the lush underbrush I was starting to feel a pang of loss until the doe in the rear turned, met my eyes and held her gaze long enough to translate, “Come hither, pilgrim, and see where we lead you.” I stood obediently and began to follow through a patch of rhododendron to the edge of a slope at the bottom of which I observed the confluence of two merging streams. The air here was noticeably more moist and a bit cooler. Oh how I longed to be brook-side with my new friends and so began the trek down the slope.
We’d had a week of rain that had finally abated three days previous, but while the top layer of leaves on the forest floor was dry, the leaves beneath that were wet and chose that moment to introduce themselves by sending yours truly ass over head in a slippery tumble down the slope that culminated in torn pants and a pulled groin muscle.
Fuck the woods.
When you try to recapture elements of your youth,remember… “elements” is the operative word.