March 31, 2021
The child in the forest
Does not know the man he already is
And beats the trees with his sticks and his heart
And maybe sets himself with them
And the seeds in hIs hair
Today I’m thinking about the childhood experiences that accumulated to make me who I am today. Those triumphs and humiliations, those adventures, and silences, the books that kept me company, those friends and siblings and parents and teachers: they intertwine with the DNA or the chance attributes of a human and how one feels about oneself.
I had a short foray into dancing, but when schedules conflicted with Girl Scouts I chose the latter. I had pretty dresses and went to teas (a fifties kind of socializing), but action was, and still is, my thing. I’ve said good-bye to climbing trees, but only recently; I choose walking over sitting, the woods over cafés (although I love cafés!), gardening over knitting. The best indoor thing for straightening out a poem or a plot is organizing closets; sitting in a chair with my eyes closed, as advised by writer Robert Olen, makes me a lazy thinker. (But I see his point, and respect it.)
I attribute my values largely to the camp in the Tennessee mountains I attended for nine summers: For two months each year, I lived close to earth, water, critters, trees, and other campers. I learned to learn by listening and watching, and I learned to teach, and I learned independence. I had the freedom to be mischievous and daring; the obligation to be kind and to follow rules; the silence and the creative time to make art and to write; and activities to build strength, skill, and community. I learned my limits, too, socially and physically, coming to recognize that I could be awkwardly naive and irritatingly opinionated and that while I was quite good at archery and canoeing, I would never be more than mediocre at tennis. Most of all, I found my core-deep calm and perhaps the voice of my soul in forests. Hiking on rugged paths, sitting on a large rock in the middle of a stream, sleeping under the stars–these placed the seeds in my hair. I’ve been planting them ever since.