The first time I ever really connected with the forest I was 8 years old, it was 1989 and I was living downtown in a medium-sized city in Southwestern Ontario, Canada. I was a smart, introspective kid, highly empathetic with a flair for dramatics. Because of this, I found it difficult to fit in with regular classroom life; so once a week I went off campus to a different school full of kids like me. A city cab would come to my house every Thursday morning, I would hop in the back with a couple other precocious kids from neighbouring elementary schools and off we went to side-step conventionality and escape the day-to-day for eight precious hours.
I loved those days and looked forward to them eagerly.
One autumn day, we ventured out on a field trip to a local conservation area. I’d been there before, on one of those school outings when you learn about the endemic flora and fauna, collect some tadpoles, eat a packed lunch and leave.
But this time was different. This time we were set loose in the forest and told to come back when they called us. ….The 80’s: Amiright?
This time we were given a pencil and paper and asked to document our experience.
The alluring secrets of the shadows, the sparkle of dew on fallen leaves, all a backdrop to the joyful commentary of sparrows, robins, jays and chickadees… The effervescence of these beings and beautiful tableaus created by the trees and their secretive understory enchanted me, conspired to draw me deeper; to places I had not previously known - only felt in my heart must be true. Wandering down the trail towards the irresistible melody of a small stream, I came upon a mossy, rotting log which I used as a backrest and got comfortable.
I was elated.
The first thing I noticed was the sounds around me: a symphonic delight of life bathing my ears and my being.
The birds, the water, the rustling of leaves moved by unseen feet, claws, bodies.
I could actually hear them.
The acoustic landscape was undulating, forming gentle rolling hills. The sharp peaks of city life were absent, and there was no flattening drone of cars or hum of fluorescent lights. It was not an empty vacuum of sound, but a vastness. The gentle cacophony lulled me, settling my nervous system, and as I relaxed I found my breath began to fall into the rhythm of the land.
In this particular non-silent quiet, I could appreciate the space between the sounds, and the possibility that dwelled there. I remember writing…
“it’s so quiet, as if an alligator could slither up beside me and rest.”
Now, there was no practical chance of an alligator actually posting up next to me, but such was the curious magic of this moment - it felt like anything could happen. The spaciousness allowed for a possibility of union, it was a feeling of ease and acceptance into Nature and my own natural state. Quite a feat for a quirky, city kid. And then I went further.
The sharp coolness of the gurgling creek was juxtaposed against the deep, earthy scent of decay. Shades of green, too numerous to count, surrounded me forming a living kaleidoscope. Is it possible to taste colour? The taste of the place was equal parts exhilarating and tranquilising. Leaning into the support of the spongy, decaying stump, my fingertips explored the peaks and valleys of its rough, crumbling skin and my body sank lower and lower into the cushiony, moist soil. As the barrier between Self and Other began to dissolve and I wrote:
“The bark enfolds my skin and moss overtakes me.”
At this moment I was not inhabiting the conservation area I had visited previously, with its stale lesson plans and adolescent amphibians in a bucket. Nor was this an imaginary place, fanciful and wispy like illustrations in a fairy tale. No, this was very definitely Real Life. This was an experience of absolute Oneness, overflowing with awe and complete open presence. And so began a deep, transformative friendship. A reciprocal relationship in which I understood that I would never be alone again.
80's kid then. 80's kid now.