Since we’ve moved back to Delaware, I’ve gotten to fulfill a longtime dream of mine, which is to spend my days doing what I love. Not only do I get to write and draw all day long, our apartment (though rather annoyingly small) has one critical feature that makes it all worth it. See just a short walk from the door of our apartment lies this:
In what feels like the ultimate decadence, I get to spend every afternoon walking with my little man (that would be my dog, Pondi) through the green foliage that is the Delaware woods. I never noticed before how lush and overgrown it is. Could it be that moving back from New Mexico has changed my perspective? After staring at barren landscapes for months, it is any surprise I find the forest to be a joyous and overwhelming expression of the abundance of life?
People talk of saving the rainforest, the plethora of life there, and like me, dream of heading there one day for the experience of a lifetime. But how about exploring the vastness of life right here- the very woods that surround us on much of the east coast? The cornucopia of life here is just as interesting and noteworthy, if not quite as diverse.
Another common concern about the rainforest is the potential future drugs that may be lost with deforestation. Yet the forests of the east coast have their own medicine, some I currently rely on: black cohosh, wild yam, cramp bark. I refrain from harvesting these plants in the wild, overharvesting our native species has already led to declines in herbs like echinacea and ginseng, but it is still a thrill, exploring the green of the forest, examining flowers and leaves: what plant are you? I love watching them change and grow over time. In spring, along the side of the creek overlooking the water, up pops what I lovingly call Fairy’s Umbrella. It looks like groups of fairies pitched their tents on the beach to enjoy the view for the day. And then one day those beach umbrellas each had a white flower poking from their stand. Imagine my joy to find out this is Mayapple, a very poisonous plant, except the solitary berry when it is very ripe. I think I’ll skip tasting this potentially deadly treat but I can’t help but feel that I’ve discovered a new friend. Same with the trees that always spread their branches above me… wild cherry, black walnut, slippery elm have their own medicine, too.
You don’t have to go far for solitude either. Apartments and houses dwell not far from my creek, yet I find the forest mostly silent, empty, and us, alone. My dog loves to spend his days chasing after frogs in the water. Their hopping and splashing is the ultimate dog thrill. Unfortunately for the frogs, a summer of practice has the dog fast and skilled. Fortunately for the frogs, when I look up to see a tiny leg hanging out of his mouth, he immediately knows to spit it out.
We see groundhogs, and beavers, deer, and a beautiful blue heron that flaps its enormous wings as it sails over the creek, and away from us. One day by the water, we came across a baby fox. It slowly got up from the path, and let us get very close to it. Too close, I thought. But I moved on, unsure what to do about a potentially sick fox. When we came back later it was gone. When we came back a week later, we found its bones. I wish I had helped that fox somehow, but life and death are all part of the cycles of the forests. And, that fox’s flesh fed the vultures, then the beetles, and then the soil. Nothing in the forest goes to waste; everything has a purpose. Everything naturally recycles, except for human creations- that would be the occasional trash I find along the way. There’s usually some broken beer bottles at different parts of the creek I call the beach (sandy areas where we go down to the water and play). To those who leave them behind, please think of those who might want to walk barefoot down by the water, yes we exist, and those people’s dogs, who are naturally barefoot.
I tend to act in the woods like I would in my home. I have no problem walking into the stream, climbing on rocks, sitting on sand. They say you should cover up to go in the forest, but I prefer less clothes. If there’s a tick out there, there’s nowhere for him to hide; I will see him. And, when I’m on the trail, poison ivy and nettle aren’t a problem.
There’s a certain wildness that frees in someone when they spend almost everyday in nature, free of human interaction. There’s a naturalness that bubbles to the surface, unafraid of judgments or criticisms or a little mud. There’s an exhilarating freedom, and the knowledge that we humans are just a tiny part of the bigger picture of life.
I cried today at my woods, I fear eventually this time in my life will have to come to a close. Gone will be the spontaneity of the forest. The more time I spend outside, the more the idea of spending all day in an office, or structured work environment feels unimaginable. And I will miss all that my daily walks have given me, my unencumbered time in the wild. My dog will miss it, too.