May 25, 2016: The Countless Secret Woods
I am in the tree and it is hot and humid. The leaves hang heavy and it is only May. I happen to have the Canon when a Black-and-white Warbler lands on a nearby branch. I don’t see birds often in my tree as there are no seeds, though I suppose it is as good a tree as any to a devourer of insects, as this bird is. Its plumage is startlingly precise, streaked with black and white in a world now painted green. I lift the camera and it drops to another branch; I take a few pictures but it is small and faraway now, and then gone. I don’t know if I have ‘got’ it or not.
I am reading John Fowles’ The Tree. In the first chapter he says something very perspicuous. Flat open areas, he writes, are dominated by the regular passage of time, like the ticking of a clock. Among trees, in the woods, there are a variety of times: “here dense and abrupt, there calm and sinuous–never plodding.” Entering “the countless secret woods” of the Devon-Dorset border country where he lives is, even now, like going into “another medium, another dimension.” But when he was young, “this sensation was acute. Slinking into trees was always slinking into heaven.”
To read the writing of another adult who remembers this heaven, this acute sensation, who even now seeks out the “countless secret woods” in order to enter another dimension–how refreshing! Tree climbing is so deeply associated with childhood that every once in a while even I wonder if it might be a waste of time, a foolish indulgence, and ask, what is wrong with me that I never grew up?
So it is good to be reminded that there are other people who go out among the trees not just for exercise, not just to hike, or to identify plants or look for birds or have a family excursion, but to enter another world, a world that is mysterious and beautiful and other, and that at the same time feels like one’s own deepest self. Who go out among the trees to lose themselves, and, in the same moment, to find themselves again, more deeply and more truly, because this dappling of green light among the branches, this smell of bark and earth, this moving air, this sloping ground littered with twigs and leaves–this is their spiritual home. And it sings of the beauty and the wildness that lies at the depths of the human spirit.