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In This Place

A woodland walk

woodland trail.jpg
Liz Lerner

This woodland I walk in is not just a collection of trees, or a series of perches and habitats for birds and other wildlife. Nor is it just a place to pursue natural history or get exercise. It is not simply a backdrop for anything.

Here is where I go to be alone, listen to my innermost thoughts, deal with my tyrannical ego, wrestle with my demons, and sometimes… find creativity. There is nowhere in town where this can happen. It is precisely because the woods are other than human or more than human that I can put my small whirling life into a larger context. In town I must always “prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet,” in the words of T.S. Eliot. Even in this, the deadest month of year, there are usually people on the street, cars going by, shop and gallery windows. And at home I am surrounded by my books and belongings, and the possibility of intrusion, electronic or otherwise. This is always a challenge. “The enemies of solitude can reside within ourselves,” wrote Rafia Zakaria.

These woods represent a place for introspection. The trees offer no advice, no answers, and they provide no judgement, nor any solace, either. They do and do not listen. They take no greeting, and require nothing from me. They simply provide an arena for my elusive self. Here, I can sometimes sort things out.

There are last season’s leaves and pine needles beneath my feet, the underbrush of inkberry and other shrubs, and the silent sentinels of the trees. Lichens abound. Above, an airplane drones and some crows caw in a clear blue sky; there is the distant hum of traffic on Route 6. Otherwise silence reigns in the still air. I can “hear myself think.” I recognize the voice inside my head as my own, and I try to identify my own thoughts- not what I have heard or read, but what comes from me. It is not easy; sometimes it is impossible. The first trick is to clear away the mundane, the everyday thoughts about daily events, news, gossip. To “clear the mirror,” as John Coltrane put it. To get to the essentials. To find out who I am. You can’t honestly and effectively deal with others until you have dealt with yourself.

On this “narrow land” there is of course no true wilderness. Or is there? I am sure these lived-in woods have seen people and their effects for centuries, for millennia perhaps- but, still, today they are operating under their own criteria, according to their own values. They are simply there. That is why they help.

My dog is with me but has her own affairs to attend to. If I ramble on, she puts up with it. On the edge of the woods a south-facing dune face receives the sun and is relieved of its snow blanket. My mind clears. The worlds within and without merge. It is not peace I seek but clarity. I am almost there.

Just for a moment, almost there.