Falling in Love with a forest

Due to some unexpected events, my wife and I changed our vacation plans and moved up our planned trip to Asheville a month earlier.
I’m an almost fanatical beach person, my life heavily arranged in the summer months around facilitating very regular trips to the beach to swim and float. I have more ordinary enjoyments of the ocean but it’s also spiritual, or even devotional for me. Elementally speaking I have historically felt most connected to water, and to fire. Astrologically I’m almost entirely water and fire. As a result it was an uncommon decision to plan a vacation that had no beaches involved (although this did involve more than a few WATERFALLS). But my relationship to the woods and mountains runs deep too.

I grew up in up in rural northwestern NJ in Sussex county, with a deep woods and wetlands behind my house. It was less developed back then, and as a child it felt like I could walk around the woods behind my house for hours. I spent a considerable amount of time in the woods. My mom had bought a couple of prom dresses from the Salvation Army and sewed the hem up as play/dress up outfits, and my favorite game was “nature princess” which invoked putting one of this dresses on over my shorts and t-shirt and playing in the woods.
Unfortunately I was also excessively allergic to stinging insects of all kinds, and in the summer I had a near constant string of allergic reaction events, huge swollen bumps, and general polka-dotted itchiness that started to impinge upon my enjoyment of the woods. Like many habits that begin in childhood, I continued to focus on more arid locales and beaches all the way through my adulthood. 

Flash forward to 2020. I had already been jogging and walking my dog regularly for some time in Prospect Park near my house, but you all know the story. Suddenly in March 2020 walking in the woods was a primary form of recreation. I live below the southern boundary where there are many mulched paths and hills. Hour by hour I got to explore all the paths, recreating that sense of having a “back woods” that I knew by heart.

When you walk the same piece of land, you start to notice all the little details: the way the earth responds to rain and snow, the fenced off areas where you can observe nesting, you begin to see more “unusual” or surprising events like a great blue heron 40 feet up in a tree and turtles laying eggs right next to the path, you learn where the Cardinals prefer to feed and socialize vs the Chickadees. And I’ve also developed practices of noticing based on the weather; looking for mushrooms and moss to appreciate after the rain, new flowers after a warmer day, and observing which trees are budding at what rate (or their leaves turning).

Slowly and all at once I found myself falling in love with the forest again, awestruck by the beauty of the seasons, getting lost in the magic of exchange when I would meditate or bring my reiki practice there. I always run energy through my body and out my feet when I’m in the woods, I offer the intention that if there’s anything beneficial I can offer that I would like to do that. I bring some water and make sure to give some as thanks when I sit with a plant or tree. When you bring that reciprocal relationship to the land you can’t help but start to become a part of it, and remember that you actually are a part of it.

I like to approach any new place this way, introducing myself and beginning with an offering of energy and/or water. I often see and feel tangible response, and these new (to me) forests in the Blue Ridge Mountains were no exception. To introduce yourself and feel a strong gust of wind, or have an owl fly right in front of you and land within your view, you can’t help but feel welcome. Love is a lot about gestures of appreciation, and when they are exchanged it’s all the more special.

I’ve been feeling the importance of these acts of reciprocity more acutely in recent months (along with more tangible acts like picking up garbage, caring for local animals and plants, and trying to be as environmentally responsible as possible).  Plants and trees have an awareness of us, of the space we take up and the way we move.  They observe keenly because it takes a long time for their branches and stalks to move.  Or maybe they just like to.   I imagine it must be strange to see so much and mostly be considered inanimate by a majority of people.  I think they like being witnessed and appreciated.  Wouldn’t you?

What are the elements and locales that you continue to fall in love with?

Have they changed?

What is you relationship to environment when you seek reciprocity and exchange?

Where do you feel yourself belonging now?

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