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Posts Tagged ‘nature’

The Nature of Things

Out of all the words that I would use to describe myself, ‘outdoorsy’ wouldn’t be one of them.

Now, just to be clear, I was not a city kid who never understood nor experienced nature. I lived in a place called “Goodwood” for heaven’s sake. My father was an avid outdoorsman. He considered the woods an extension of himself, something I wish that I shared with him. When I speak to others about where they grew up, I know I was a fortunate child to have grown up in a house outside of the city, with an expansive forest behind it. Looking back it was incredible, trees on three sides of the house, it should have been a child’s dream.

I wanted absolutely nothing to do with it.

My sister, keen to explore, would always be begging me to go outside with her, to which I would flippantly turn down. Why would I go outside, when I had a whole world to explore inside (where it was either cozy and warm in winter, or cool and shaded in summer)? Sometimes my mother would be so flabbergasted she would implement a no indoor afternoon, to which she would ceremoniously lock us out, (well let’s be honest, me out) so that my already incredibly pale skin had any chance to see the sun. My sister I’m sure would always be thrilled that finally we’d get to play outside together. However, locked out or not, I’d always make sure I’d quickly grab a book during my temporary banishment and seek shelter under the largest tree I could find. I’d sit there smugly, feeling like I had fooled my mother. Essentially, I had found the indoors of the outdoors. In hindsight, it would have been kinder for me to have played some make believe in the woods with my sister, and it probably wouldn’t have hurt my shockingly pale skin to get some Vitamin D, but alas, hindsight is 20/20.

Now don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the outdoors. I’m not one of those people who hate the outside. I’ve had many, many positive experiences. As I said, my father has a deep love and appreciation for the outdoors, and would take us on beautiful hikes where I’d see the most unseemingly gorgeous places, that were literally in my back yard. I was a Girl Guide that didn’t shy away from camping in any weather or season, and enjoyed the camaraderie that being in the great outdoors allows in a group of people. I have attended many camps, outdoors camps, with insects galore, dutifully putting on the deet to head outdoors, rain or shine gleefully participating in any activity that was asked of me.

There was one defining moment though that brought me over to the nature loving side, even only for a brief moment.

In fifth grade our class went on an over night class trip. It for three nights and four days outside Lunenberg in Nova Scotia. I mean obviously, I was excited about the trip because what kid isn’t excited to go away with their friends on a trip where they get to hang out for days on end? Being a teacher now, I understand that excitement even more, it’s really the beginning of independence, kids having a fun time away from home that doesn’t involve their family. It’s an ongoing coming of age story, really. Anyways, I knew in advance that this trip was going to involve nature in a big way, which was the part I was the least thrilled about, considering the name of the trip was called “Earthkeepers”. We arrived off of our school buses and I was struck at the beauty of the place, it was across the street from the ocean and the land around was endless.

Now, I don’t remember the trip in great detail, primarily because it was 20 years ago.  What I do remember was being enthralled with the outdoors. There was so many diverse areas in such a contained region. The part that I was particularly taken with was this place that was an old saw mill. It was this expansive field that was completely filled with sawdust. What’s more, is that walking on it felt like what I imagine walking on the moon to feel like. We as students were asked to look at our surroundings in a completely new way that I have never considered before. I had turned a temporary new leaf. When we returned back from our trip we were given additional assignments that we had to do at our own houses. One of these activities included going into a wooded area behind our house and picking an area to explore throughly giving it a name and describing it in great depth.

One autumn afternoon shortly after the trip, I trekked out behind my house. Now a word about my backyard: behind my house is a path that leads down to a cemetery. Even though my childhood house was off of a main highway, the entrance to the cemetery was not obvious to the hidden eye. In the grove of some overhanging trees between the house of mine and my neighbour’s, was a wooded path that felt hopelessly romantic (it was later gravelled, which now makes the road significantly easier to drive on but makes it feel far less secret). When you got down to the end of the road, it was not yet clear there was anything important there. When taking a left, and heading down a slight clearing, there was one of the most beautiful cemeteries I have ever yet to see. I know beautiful is a strange word to describe a graveyard, but it really was. It was nestled in what felt like a forgotten patch of land quietly tucked away. Nature had reclaimed most of the gravestones within the plots. The graves weren’t orderly like in most cemeteries I have ever visited, they were scattered, making it feel almost personalised for each person laid to rest there. It’s was an intimately small cemetery, and I think the last time someone had been buried there was ten years before. As a person who is intensely disturbed and petrified of death, for some reason, I did not fear that place. Instead, I found it to be a peaceful hideaway where I could get my young thoughts together.

Beyond it, was a small path that led down to a tall tree with a ladder leading up to a small seat at the top. Despite my fear of heights, I climbed up the tree valiantly, reaching the top, sitting and overseeing the treetops. I was gobsmacked that someone had built this treehouse that allowed me the opportunity to see the forest in a completely different way. (I later learned from my parents that this ‘treehouse’ was a hunting blind that belonged to my neighbours, which I have to admit slightly tarnished my first memories). Down from the ‘treehouse’ was this fairly large area that was almost completely covered in moss, which I referred to as “The Emerald City”, as an homage to my second favourite film, “The Wizard of Oz”.

I note now that even with the loving tone in which I refer to my childhood walkabouts, I still don’t embrace the idea of being outdoorsy. Even though, I would lying to you if I told you I didn’t head out to that place as a way of momentarily escaping from a crowded too small house containing five people that all needed more space. Nature kindly enough, provided that space for me.

In September, I was walking home from school along the paved road that eventually, very eventually, leads to my house. On previous occasions, I was curious about the opening of a wooded path on the other side of the road, but passed along it, eager to be home. One day, I instead decided to walk down it. It was the beginning of autumn, there was plenty of daylight left, it was the beginning of the school year and I inhabitually had some time to spare, so why not? I crossed the desolate street and decided to venture in. Almost immediately upon entering, I breathed in the familiar scent that is September on the cusp of October. There are few smells that I love more, I could cry of happiness thinking of it. How can the smell of decaying leaves represent such sadness, newness, and somehow joy, simultaneously? Memories of my childhood flooding back making me feel the same age as I was in my memories. I walked along a well worn path towards a destination that is completely unknown until I come to an opening clearing in the woods. I then see this:

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To say I felt like Alice in Wonderland was an understatement. And then I saw this:

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Then I suddenly felt a little afraid. Where exactly was this going to go?  I imagined a beautiful little brook and a humble meadow waiting patiently for me through the other side. So I walked through, and I’m pretty sure I held my breath the entire time. I hurried through to the other side, and felt myself faced with a sunnier side of the forest. I continued walking and came out of the path. It was neither the brook nor field that I envisioned. It was instead pavement, along with a string of houses, and here’s where it gets better. I am looking at the school I work at.

That’s right, I took a cute little detour in the woods, just to bring me back to exactly where I just came from, just minutes before. With a shake of my head I turn around and head back to where I just came from. However this slight disappointment does not ruin my overall romanticisation of this adorable little path I found, and on the way back, it was even more cute, if that’s even possible.

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I mean look at it. Look at those adorable leafy stairs.

When my colleague and I walked home from school, I enthusiastically showed her this lovely little find, to which she told me she was already aware of it. Here’s where the story gets a little sad, apparently it’s where our students do their smoking and other badass activities that are done by teens in wooded areas. Suddenly this quaint little nook in the woods showed me its cigarette butts, graffiti and copious amount of litter.

[Insert a heavy sigh here.]

Months later, I was reminded of this place, the other rainy morning as my cab passed along the paved road with the string of little houses along it, the path unbeknown to anyone who doesn’t already know it’s there because it blends in with its’ surroundings. I saw a student, walking towards the path, and hour before school started, saddened that I knew where he was going with a pretty good idea of why.

In my teacher mindset, this upsets me. However, in my human mindset, I completely understood him. Many years later, even if the needs it served us are different, the woods continues to give space freely to anyone who needs it, where maybe they too can get their young thoughts together.

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