Memorial: The land as a friend

I am what is refered to as “middle aged.”  In just a few days I will hit the amazing double nickle birthday, then be on a new adventure toward 60.   I try not to get hung up on the numbers, because they are just that.   I have many wonderful friendships in my life, spanning from the very young, to beautiful souls in their 90’s.   I know people who, “by the numbers” are considered “old”, but who exude an infectious, youthful energy.  I know people who are considered young but seem wise beyond their years – “old souls” as some like to call them.  Each of the people in my life share with me their unique personality traits and talents. Each is a treasure.

There is another kind of relationship I have developed over the years that is just as inspiring and just as important to me.  A relationship with the planet earth and the landscape that stands upon it.  A relationship with not only the wild spaces, but also with lovingly landscaped yards and gardens, the empty or abandoned lots left to be reclaimed by nature, and the preserved and tended spaces of parks and recreation areas.  Each has it’s own unique traits, draw and energy.

I have lived in many places over my 55 years, different towns, different states.  In each place I have been introduced to amazing people, many of whom have become fast friends, but also to amazing outdoor spaces that have become the places I go to for inspiration, solace and contemplation. Having a relationship with a natural space doesn’t simply happen.  It is a product of shared nuances between the land and the people on it. Delight becomes a choice to spend time in a space, gratitude becomes a deepening connection and devotion to it’s enhancement and protection.

I still have vivid memories of city parks in the small town where my family lived when I was under the age of five.  Wonderful playgrounds and what seemed to a young child like endless green spaces.  In that same town I have a memory of a small triangular shaped space where a street divided, just a small bit of dirt in the middle of that split, held in by the concrete curbing.  But every spring my parents would fill that bland space with colorful petunias to beautify the street and they would tend it until season’s end.  I remember the shape of our yard there, and the big old tree (I think it was a maple) that was home to “Earl, the girl squirrel”.  I remember the empty lot across the street and the path through it that took us to “Grandma Saunders place”.  Spending time in a space and a resulting emotional connection creates the relationship.  It is doubtful that many other people ever think about that one little triangle of dirt in the middle of that split street in Monroe, Wisconsin.  But I do.

In Chippewa Falls Wisconsin, where I spent the next chapter and the rest of my childhood, there is a wonderful 300 acre park in town that I spent endless time exploring over the years of my youth.  In that park I hiked and biked with friends, found secret spaces, fell in and out of young love, wept for the death of people and pets I loved, celebrated,  and introspected.  I spent time there in every season, marveled at the autumn colors and the spring flowers.  I still know that park like the back of my hand and love that space.  I mean, I really feel love for the space, and such joy when I visit and return to it – because it is an old friend.

It is the same experience with our family cabin in northern Wisconsin.  Our family has had a relationship with that land since I was six or seven years old.  It is a place that feels as if its open arms are always awaiting our return.  It is a member of the family.

In Montana, where I spent my first years as an adult living on my own and making my own way in life, I cultivated relationships with such stunning outdoor spaces that my heart aches sometimes to remember them and to know I have not returned since leaving there over 20 years ago.  Those spaces and my experiences in them are part of me as surely as the many people I have known along this road of life are part of me.

My husband and I have been living on the Long Beach Peninsula of Washington state for almost 14 years now.  I have made many wonderful friends here who have truly become like “my tribe.”  I have also discovered and connected deeply with wild spaces that have taught me about the incredible diversity of coastal nature and keep me filled with wonder and gratitude. I return to these spaces again and again to renew my connection to the earth, to spirit, to curiosity, to playfulness and adventure.

So it is with real sadness that I report the loss of a dear friend.

A glorious stand of forest here that I have come to know and love over many years is currently in the process of being clear-cut.  It is a forest that has simultaneously taken my breath away and fed the core of my soul in countless hours of hiking and exploring her stunning acres.   My whole being grieves.  For me and others, it has been a sacred place that will be deeply missed.  Of course there are other forests, even very similar forests, but like any friend, this one was unique, with it’s own unique story, energy and beauty.

In that forest I often had a sense of the inexplicable, an eternal presence – give it any name you want – and it was a space where I often found myself completely humbled by beauty.   I have left behind anger in that forest, found answers in that forest, I have been returned to hope in that forest, shared painful secrets with that forest, cried out in reverence in that forest, and I have danced and sang beneath those trees. I have  pushed through thick clumps of huge ferns, imagined the tower of ancient souls as I stood dwarfed beside the giant stumps left from the original logging.  I have watched awed at dawn as the first rays of sunslight slipped through the lacy hemlock branches and laughed out loud sometimes listening to the squeals and groans of trees in wind. I have explored the mysterious deep ravines, crossed mossy log bridges laying toppled across their bottom, gotten my feet wet in the chilly seasonal run-off gurgling down the hillsides, watched deer pass only feet away from me.  I have loved every bit of the staggering and stumbling, slipping and lurching, the careful footsteps to avoid stepping on tiny newts who made their home in the thick compost of the forest floor.  I have returned in the constant tug of curiosity to follow the wild trails used by deer, elk and bear. I have thrilled at the discovery of dens and burrows, and paused in hushed respect for animal remains found on the forest floor.  I have loved the startle of large animals moving through the brush out of sight and the endless hope for seeing them.  I have shared that forest with friends and spent time there in solitide.  I have left prayers among the trees and offerings at the base of twisted roots.  I have loved every minute of my relationship there.

As with any beloved friend, it is hard to accept the loss and I have been angry.   Yet slowly,  parallel to the sadness, I have found the balm of gratitude.  Without a doubt I have been joyfully blessed.  Many never got to experience the amazing things there that I have seen, touched and delighted in for so many years.  It is gone now, but I am one of the lucky ones.  That forest will always be a part of me.

So let the healing begin.  Let new babies rise from the rubble.  Let divine grace show me once more that there is purpose in every loss, that the trampled seeds, buried beneath the broken surface, encased for the moment in thick mud, are already knocking on the door of light, ready and eager to meet us.

 

 

 

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