In my life, the internal call to the wilderness — to the trees — is my reminder that life has gotten too hectic, too stressful and it’s time to slow down and sooth my soul.
For as long as I can remember time in the woods has been essential to my being. Raised by parents who had us out in the wilderness for much of our childhood, I find it only natural to find my grounding outside the confines of the walls in life.
I have always felt most connected to the universe in the woods. It is the place where my soul sings and my worries rest. In the woods I am whole. I am strong. I am the trees of the forest, firmly rooted in the earth, blowing in the breeze. I am solidly alone, and yet connected by my roots to all that surrounds me. I reach for the stars, survive the storms and provide shelter to the smaller and weaker around me. I am strong. I am twisted and smooth, tall and wide, a force to be reckoned with. I am one among many. I am peace, strength, tranquility.
In the fall of 1972, I was 8 years old and had just moved away from my best friend. I’d started attending a new school and had not yet found my place in my new world. Early on a Saturday morning I decided I was going to run away, back to my old life.
As I marched across the back yard with determination in my eyes, heading for the state forest beyond the grass, my father spotted me. He was mowing the lawn and stopped. He called out to me, “Marty! Where are you going?” I hollered back, “I’m running away!” He looked at me and the forest ahead of me, and called back, “Can I come?” I quickly answered, “Sure.”
He took me back in the house. We packed Fluffernutter sandwiches and headed back out across the yard and into the woods beyond. We spent all day walking in the woods exploring creeks, looking under rocks for bugs, checking out scat and sitting on logs staring up at the canopy of trees. We didn’t talk much; we just soaked in the healing balm of the woods. As the sun began to set we headed back, out of the woods, across the yard and into the warmth of home.
As I laid in my bed that night I remember thinking that I had messed up. I was smart enough to know you’re not supposed to take your dad with you when you run away. But as I look back on that experience now, I know my dad taught me an important life changing lesson that day: whatever ails me, a walk in the woods will ease the pain. It is a lesson that has stuck with me.
The damp smell of the woods is perfume to my senses and calming to my brain. It is what I long for. The slow steady pace of a walk in the woods heals all that ails me. My worries melt away. Clarity, peace, strength and tranquility replace the stress and mental confusion of life.
It is time again to dig out the camping equipment; the woods are calling me. Life is piling up and more than a simple walk is needed.
To the trees I go!
Martha Reed Johnston is a professional storyteller and member of the Story Spinners, which meets in Laurinburg.