I can live almost anywhere but my relationship with the animals and flora determine if I am at home there. The vibrations of any home, whether in city or countryside, are affected by the life that cohabits with us. And surely the quality of any life indicates and determines the quality of all life. Recently, I sat in the Mebane Oaks woods and remembered some childhood experiences.
Most of the first twelve years of my life were spent on the northern tip of Manhattan, in New York City. Inwood Park, with several miles of woods (an oasis surrounded on three sides by endless busy city blocks of apartments, commerce, cars, trucks, buses, and people, and by the sad, fetid Hudson River) was part of my neighborhood. Several times a week, I went into this park; exploring the Indian Caves, damming the small stream (and spectacularly releasing the trapped water), riding a bicycle or sled down treacherous Dead Man’s Hill, surveying the land from the top of a ridge or tree, as an Indian or Pilgrim or conqueror or an awed and excited boy.
In the forests and fields, I have come to realize that there is a force that provides for the inhabitants of this planet . . .
I frequently walked by the river’s edge turning over every stone and board, looking for whatever might be there. And I found small crabs that I grabbed as they crouched, baby eels that hoped the tide would return (these aquarium-size fish seemed a real prize), black spotted salamanders, iridescent flatworms, countless and unknown insects that had made homes under the protection of rocks and pieces of wood. Herring Gulls were plentiful and twice a year hundreds of Canadian Geese would arrive going north or south.
Walking over the trails or fields or among the trees, I saw cottontails, chirping gray squirrels, sporty chipmunks, striped garter snakes (that sprayed a malodorous fluid when disturbed), gentle ringneck and green snakes (and I fantasized seeing a majestic pine or king snake), bluejays, robins, pigeons, sparrows, many birds whose names I did not know, and, of course, rats. One day, as I hiked across the field that topped Inwood Park, I saw several chicken-size birds, some with white stripes around their dark blue-green necks. They were beautiful as they flew, brown bodies mottled with yellow, orange, and white feathers, and long tails. I told a few people that I had seen ring-necked pheasants in the park, but all were skeptical (pheasants don’t live in New York City). I saw these misplaced birds several times after this, always admiring the wildness that they emanated.
I sit on a green mossy rock by Snake Creek in the woods near my home. The home that I am leaving, slowly disentangling myself from the love and pain that I connect to the people of this old farm house and the land that surrounds it. Land with which I have begun to feel intimate. Where I have waited for fruits and nuts and herbs and fungi to appear and ripen. Where I have begun to fulfill my fantasy of living with and from that which is as freely given as breath or sunlight. In the forests and fields, I have come to realize that there is a force that provides for the inhabitants of this planet, that there is food, shelter, beauty, health, goodness for all who seek it.
I do not comprehend why people starve and suffer or why our air, land, water are strangling in human poisons. And I am puzzled and saddened by these woods that in the past year have been ravaged by the chainsaw and bulldozer, every big tree cut for pulp or construction, thousands of raw acres with mostly small trees, shrubs, plants, animals destroyed in the process. Recently, I visited Maine; two and a half million acres (almost half the state) are owned by paper companies. There are no trees over sixty or seventy feet in Maine (and very few in North Carolina).
I am surprised by how much the “state of things” troubles me. I try to understand my anger and hurt at the greed and corruption of many of my brothers and sisters (and myself). The seemingly insatiable human need to consume and destroy allows us to forget the beauty and wonder that are pervasive and eternal throughout nature (homo sapien included). As the magic of the universe is ignored and defied, the magic of our lives seems to be replaced by the need to possess and use everything that we can. My perspective is limited, and I trust in a love and wisdom that will allow us to believe in and cherish the gift of all life.