Saturday, May 31, 2008


The soft breath of evening opens over me as I take the first steps down the path in the forest I’ve come to think of as my own. I rarely see other people here, even on the most gorgeous, welcoming days of the year, days when the leaves wave rainbows and drop themselves like delicate angels onto the ground below, days when the air is bright with the spring-tipsy flutter of forest critters, days when the world is mellow, and the slow hollow suck of the mud-soft path pulls my shoes away from my feet as I walk. The curt welcome of winter is especially solitary, when the path is often frosty or slippery or slathered in ice-cold water, glittering with the hard, undeniable beauty of a quiet frozen landscape. Countless times now, maybe thousands of times, I’ve stepped from the lair of my car into this real world so drenched in beauty and life it amazes me the whole city hasn’t flocked here to taste just a morsel of it.

But they haven’t. Usually I’m here alone, the way I like it.

My relationship to the forest has evolved, the way most everything in my life has over the past few years, most keenly the relationships I share -- with people, with trees and hills, mud-slicked paths, with myself. Years ago, before yoga, before I had reclaimed my body, before I chose to allow so many of my fear-based perspectives to take their own hike somewhere else, I discovered the forest as a convenient place to get exercise. As a novice runner mid-way through an 80-pound battle, I navigated a three-mile course on the paved road that rambled through the woods. In those days I did usually see people. Cars would drive past, moms with baby strollers, other runners leaving me in their dust, cyclists… The deep tangle of trees and hills that spread out from the road and around me for seeming infinity represented a world I never stepped foot in, not by myself at least.

Somewhere in the midst of losing almost half my body weight, I discovered yoga and unwittingly began to transform my interior landscape. For quite some time, a number of years, I continued to exercise vigorously while struggling to find enough time to enjoy the yoga I intuitively knew I needed. I ran in the forest, attended umpteen thousand aerobics classes, I did yoga. I adhered to a specific schedule each day, enjoying my yoga practice only on allotted days, partially ruled by the fear that if I sacrificed any aerobic activity I would re-gain an ounce of weight, which would immediately snowball into 80 pounds, and I’d be back where I started. So I weighed myself morning, noon, and night, wrote down every tidbit of food I put into my mouth, and struggled with how to fit more yoga into my schedule. I didn’t know how to put my decisions into this context then, but now I know I was driven by fear, that sneaky devil. The fear of becoming who I didn’t want to be.

Eventually I took my run to the woods. I don’t remember the transition, I just know it happened, and I know it was the yoga in me that made me do it. One day I was on the road, and then one day I wasn’t, I had disappeared into the leaves to begin a different journey, and I haven’t looked back since.

Now I take it slow. My running feet have stopped running. I’m back to walking in the woods. Sometimes I’ll stop dead still in the middle of the trail and look around in sheer wonder. I see things back here I never once, in all the years I trod the pavement, saw. Five feet from a deer bigger than me, the two of us locked in a thick moment of respectful cross-species communication, she finally turns and saddles off to rejoin the wood’s salient hum. I’m so grateful to be a part of this scenario I could cry, and sometimes I do. Sometimes it’s birds dancing on the breeze, sometimes it’s a beaver slamming his tail at me, sometimes the noise is a mystery I can only guess at, a twittering reminder that I am of this world and not above it, that we are all of us – the birds and salamanders, moss-covered rocks and chirping squirrels – participating in a dance, whether we realize it or not.

People have expressed concern to me about the safety of hitting the woods alone. Part of me used to worry about this as well. My father, bless his heart, gave me this thing called an “executive ice-scraper,” this tool that could very legitimately be used to scrape ice, as well as gouge eyeballs or otherwise inflict harm on a would-be attacker. It fit snug and warm in my palm, and I gripped it while I darted through the woods, constantly aware of its presence, of the imminent threat of attack. It made perfect sense to me at the time. After all, I also used to tell my husband that I felt like we were all walking around with loaded guns aimed at our heads, I worried so incessantly about the well-being and safety of my family. I used to constantly feel as though all of us were just a hair’s breadth away from disaster, that really the list of potential tragedies was infinite so I therefore had to worry extra hard and extra long to make sure I covered every single one of them. It was hell, and I created it. The executive ice-scraper was my friend, its presence helped me to not forget the never-ending parade of disasters that were tottering on the brink of reality, poised to ruin my life. I was ready, dammit, I could hardly wait to show off my impressive self-defense skills.

So again with the fear. Eventually, as I deepened my practice, as I learned to focus more on my breaths than my thoughts, more on what is than what might ruin it, the executive ice-scraper got left behind, and slowly, so slowly I didn’t even notice it happening, the torrid parade of scary images that seemed to me just a natural constituent of being a mother, a wife, a woman alone in the big breathing world, the torrid parade faded into oblivion where it belongs and left an open space I could begin to fill with gratitude and appreciation. I can’t remember the last time I entertained a twisted fantasy about how exactly I would kick a man coming at me, how fast I would run, would a car be on the road for me to wave over? If I was going to go down, would it last long, would I suffer much? How exactly would my children react when they learned they’d never see their mother again? Would my husband remarry? All this as I took one step after another through god’s growing green earth, shining all around me in full-on lustrous glory, while I shirked inside my useless worry like a turtle in a shell. It’s as though I was insane, just like a lot of us, worry worry worry, wasting all those precious moments on figments of our imaginations, breathing life into our worst nightmares.

Now at least I know I have an option. I can walk in the woods, my arms swinging a careless rhythm, allowing myself to absorb the sheer limitless goodness offered by one foot after another on a long forest path, the woodsong happy and the leafwind smooth, my heart open and my mind free. Or I can walk with the executive ice-scraper tucked like a burdensome shadow in the hollow of my hand. What the heck, I’ll risk it. The scraper can stay in the glovebox of the car where it belongs, waiting for winter and hard cold ice.

I’ll take the woodsong and leafwind.


1 comment:

B In A TREE said...

Simple, Honest, Beautiful...