I am spending a couple days in a beautiful place on Hood Canal, away from my family–it was a gift from my partner because he knows I need time alone to reset and recharge. Especially considering the dark place I’ve been in lately, the timing is… (I was trying to come up with a better word than “good” here, so I’m going with) the tits. I know, he’s a keeper. (And if you’re asking yourself what he sees in me, I DON’T KNOW EITHER.)
Most of my time thus far has been spent on crossword puzzles and bad movies (I have no regrets), but today I went for a walk in the woods. The trees are wrapped in thick, soft blankets of moss, the ferns are a bright, inviting green, and as I left the cement behind, it was replaced by a pair of streams–one rushing, one trickling. Did you know there is absolutely nothing I love more than a stream running through a forest? Well there isn’t. Or… there is. The grammar is confusing here. And by the way, what is it about the sound of rushing water? Is it a subconscious longing for the safety of the womb? Is it the suggestion of having something washed away? Is it the life-giving nature of water? Is it just that it drowns out other noises? I don’t know what it is, but I do know that the sound of rushing water calms me.
The forest is and always has been my favorite place. The second I enter, I feel the tension in my chest loosen. I feel my inner peace rising in spite of the villain in my brain’s* efforts to keep that peace down. I know this is not uncommon. In fact, more than one person has recently sent me articles on the Japanese art of “forest bathing.” Just being with trees is scientifically proven to be good for our health. More on forest bathing here:
I have felt especially connected to the forest since I was a child. It may sound like some hippy dippy bullshit, but I feel the presence of trees. In my solitude among the trees, I find that I don’t feel alone at all. In fact, I feel less alone than I feel when I’m with people. I feel comforted, as though surrounded by friends. Friends who get me, friends who are content to just be. These friends are silent and strong, and they give me life. They remind me who I am, and only the best parts of myself. They remind me to breathe, and laugh, and let go.
It had gone from semi-sunny to gray by the time I got on the trail, and about halfway through my tiny solo adventure, it started raining. That sound. Rain drops through trees, rain drops drumming against the soil. I tried to take a video, mostly for the sound, but my phone died, and just as my phone died, the rain turned from light to heavy. It was suddenly falling in sheets, and as I walked a few more steps I realized it was not rain anymore, but hail. I was out in the woods by myself in a torrential downpour of a hailstorm. I think most people’s response to this situation would be “Oh FUCK!” and a sprint for cover. But as I was getting both soaked and pelted in the head by little balls of ice, I was suddenly and keenly aware of being… happy. This is what I want. What I need. I was smiling and laughing, and found myself running along the trail as the ground became increasingly white with hail. My clothes were sticking to me, and when I got to the end of my little loop trail, I decided to do another loop because being out in the pouring hail in the trees is where I belong and I wasn’t ready to go. Just as I got to the viewpoint of the second loop, the hail stopped, there appeared patches of blue sky over the water and a rainbow arching below the clouds. It felt like a metaphor, for getting through something maybe, but I didn’t feel like thinking about that. I only felt like keeping the joy I feel when I’m alone in the woods in a hailstorm alive.
Several years ago while visiting Orcas Island I had a moment, sitting by a serene little lake, surrounded by trees. I thought to myself, “Don’t forget this. This is where you are happy. At peace. This is who you are.” (We were living in Los Angeles at the time, and don’t get me wrong–I love lots of things about LA, but access to trees and water was really lacking, and it weighed on my heart and mind.) I had a similar experience last summer in Glacier National Park. I watched my daughter play in a stream running through the woods and I thought, “This is where I belong.” I cried when we drove out of the park. I grieved the loss of leaving a place I love, and for the part of myself I had no choice but to leave behind. But I kept the feeling, and was reminded of it today as the rain and hail fell and I couldn’t stop smiling. I planted that feeling in my gut because I know I’ll need it. I’ll need it when things get dark.
I am a person who feels lost a great deal of the time. I get frustrated when people say, “Just do what you love” as career advice, because I don’t know what that means in a practical sense. But when we can do what we love and access the best parts of ourselves without the expectation of productivity attached, it becomes a lot more clear. For me, at least. Sometimes “do what you love” can just mean “go hang out with some damn trees.”
So I say to my friends, when you are lost in the dark: Remember who you are. Remember the best parts of you. It might not be a hailstorm in the woods that reminds you. But something will. And when you and I access that core and if we can hold onto it, we can use those strong, serene, powerful parts of ourselves to get the fuck out there, and stand up tall like our friends the trees. We can disrupt the darkness within us and we can disrupt the growing darkness around us . We can be hailstorms.
*I like this analogy, of my depression being a villain. I am the protagonist and that bastard is the bad guy.