I like myself in the woods more than any other place in the world, more than being dolled up in sequins or standing with a crowd in a fancy ballroom. There is an honesty among trees that does not exist anywhere else. They can only be who they were made to be. They are honest. They listen. As I toe my way along a trail and rejoice in the soprano voices of streams, the whispering of leaves in a breeze, the soft wheep of a Great Crested Flycatcher on a summer morning, the top of my head seems to come right off.
Great mounds of honeysuckle pushed its hypnotic sweetness at me when I walked past them yesterday. I stopped and buried my face in it to pull its honey into my brain to draw it deep into the dark, tired places that grow like mold from working in a windowless room all week. Thus refreshed, I strolled back home the same way I came two hours before and was a better person for it.
Many years ago, my mother and I went for a walk at Ramapo Valley. It was one of those rare times when she was able to join me to hike one of my favorite trails. On the climb up a stony slope to a lookout summit, a woman who must have been in her 70’s was picking her way down the hill.
I was surprised to see someone of such an advanced age out alone in the woods. She stepped slowly, carefully, using a cane to balance herself as she teetered her way down. I wondered if I should offer to help her down, but then, she stopped and glanced up at us. She smiled.
She was once very beautiful. Her skin was clear, her gray hair was pulled back in an escaped bun that was now streaming down her back. Her blue eyes matched the sky. There was something about her that seemed holy, as if she were some kind of angel in hiking boots holding a cane. In one of those flashes of understanding that can never be contained in words, I thought:
“That’s me in fifty years.”
I’m almost there.