Growing up on suburban New York had its advantages; good schools, tons of friends, trips to the beach or The City and strip malls galore. Still, with all this modern urbanism, I focused at an early age on the woods, any woods. There was a cluster of nine trees in the school yard behind my backyard we called The Woods, where I swear I remember them tying up elephants when the circus came to town when I was very young. Down the block was a preserve called Tacapausha named after a local Indian full of mosquitos and poison ivy, birds and bunnies. There was another woods across town we called Three Streams where we could go fish and hunt and gather. Every major Freeway or Parkway was lined with a thick buffer of trees and provided an extended linear wooded playground for a young boy on a bike. We would build bike trails and forts, dig holes to do wheelies in, play hide and seek, start fires, have fights and rumbles and anything primeval. This was our focus and our escape from New York.
But every year my family would make a pilgrimage to my aunt’s farm in northern Massachusetts where they had real woods. They had acres of it, miles of it, with either a lemon lime green glow in the spring and summer, or winter white, or a patchwork quilt of hardwood colors in the fall. This was wilderness to us, the wilderness of Thoreau, Lincoln, Stegner, Lewis and Clark. We would discover it, revel in it, freeze in it, and get lost in it. Every day we would expectantly watch the woods emerge in the first morning light as the reflections of the breakfast kitchen faded to the reality of the outdoor world. We were content sometimes to just watch it, if not, go out and play in it.
Now we hike and ride and ski in the western woods around our home. Not Birch and hardwoods but Aspens and conifers. We are full grown adults but we are still amazed by the individual, yet repeating, random fractal Zen gardens around every turn as well as the boundless scope of the totality of woods. The safe and slow scale of the up-track detail contrasts favorably with the perilously rapid ride down past an endless picket fence of trees, marveling at how many we don’t hit. There are no elephants but it is our back yard.
We have traveled far and wide from the infinite woods of Alaska and the Boreal forests of Canada to the 5000 year old Bristlecone woods of Nevada, and the petrified forests in the desert southwest. From the protected Black Forest of Europe to the stunted, high altitude equatorial forests of Peru we gravitate again and again to the trees, to the woods. They are all well and good, actually they are all suffering and adapting, but give me the forests and woods of my home and my youth, anytime.
So take me back then to a small cabin in the woods with a bed and a bano, a fire and a fridge where we can minimize our needs, forget the crazy world and live quietly alone with the land. Five or fifty acres of our own, away from the neighbors, their bright lights and their barking dog, but close enough to town to drop in unannounced. Take me back to the sights, the sounds, the smells and the protective peace and the cool quiet of the woods.