There’s a feeling in the woods that is hard to find anywhere else. To me, it’s the feeling of being wild, of living for a few days outside of the status quo. Among the trees, you’re just another creature in an ecosystem that neither notices nor cares about your presence. As long as you walk with caution and minimize your impact, you can silently join the ages-old environment as an unnoticed observer, watching trees older than anyone you’ve ever known sway and move in and out of patchy shadows of light cast by their own massive branches. Unlike the trees, perfectly evolved for cold, desolate nights, human ancestors made their homes in caves, protected from the night; from the creatures and unknowns that inhabit the forest.
And yet here we are, making a temporary home under the colorful but superficial protection of a tent, pushing aside pine needles and planning to exist in an environment that most humans abandoned thousands of years ago. Unpacking my bag and settling into my lakeside patch of dirt, I feel that feeling found only in the woods.
Women in the 21st century have to walk a delicate line: be attractive, but don’t care about being attractive; be smart, but not a know-it-all; be fun, but don’t try too hard. On social media, even the outdoorsy, athletic women all seem to be naturally beautiful, somehow managing to have perfect hair and makeup in every shot, and always managing the perfect candid smile.
That perfectly photogenic person is not me. But in the woods, that’s perfectly fine. The ecosystem doesn’t care about me or my looks; only intelligence and physical stamina determine how long you can stay. In nature, I feel free of my own innate judgment. My socks don’t need to match and perpetual dirt in my hair is a given. My only responsibilities are existing in the wild and, if he’s with me, protecting my four-legged adventure buddy, only slightly better adapted to the woods than I am. Though he loves running along the trails and climbing over rocks, he’s more accustomed to the memory foam of his Basset-Hound-sized bed than the flat corner of the tent in which he’ll have to sleep.
As we begin to follow the dirt trail into the trees, I look forward to being completely immersed in what I consider a place removed from modern problems. As we walk through the trees, I become more focused on the moment, more mindful, to use the social term du jour. My problems become smaller with every step as the massive everywhere – and always-ness of the forest begins to dwarf us. Footsteps, though always ephemeral, may exist for days, or they may be blown away in the next gust of pine-scented air. It’s the desire to be in this space and feel the sense of remoteness that makes me feel wild; the desire to be in a place that requires faithful self-reliance and comfort with the unknown. This temporary, undistinguished existence in the woods.
As day turns to dusk, shadows begin to masquerade themselves as animals and rustling leaves are amplified by a factor that grows with every bit of daylight lost. The night is approaching in the woods, as it has faithfully since these ancient trees were saplings. Relaxing in my tent and safely next to my furry companion, we wait to be engulfed in the darkness of the wild. As it arrives, and the stars come out, our reasons for coming to the woods are fulfilled. Tonight, we are part of the wild.