On my recent trip to Ohio, I was determined to go for a walk in the woods on the farm my father grew up on. Not an easy task, when you have a grandmother and seven aunts and uncles, not to mention the cousins, to coordinate visits with over four days. Especially when you are the last passenger in an SUV holding your Mom, sister and her son, brother, his wife and their ten-month-old baby.
We were staying close enough I could walk there, if I could fined the trail. The first time I tried, I couldn’t find it. I was so disappointed, I thought my childhood memory of the way had failed me, until a cousin told me that things had changed. You had to go down further and catch the track in a different place.
In our rush from place to place, by the last night there I still hadn’t made it to the woods. When I woke early the next morning, I knew it was the right time to go. Quietly getting up and heading out, I found a world filled with misty light. A heavy summer mist, born of the rain the previous days and the warmth of the air, the sun just beginning to break through.
I walked along the road and found the right track, running along a farmer’s fallow field. I wasn’t sure I was in the right place until I found the pond at the outer edge do the woods, and the track continued into the woods.
Before I left, I asked myself, would these woods feel like home? Would there be some childhood memory, some genetic memory, that would make this forest familiar?
I got my answer… It was no. These are not my woods. These are not my trees. There were no towering firs amongst the deciduous trees. No gnarled and mossy and twisty oaks. They were beautiful, but I had not spent enough time in these trees, as a child or otherwise, to make them familiar friends. Not like I have here in Oregon or where I grew up in Colorado. My time in Ohio has been too brief. Too infrequent.
But I enjoyed my misty morning walk in the woods, nonetheless. I found myself at my grandmother’s house at the end, and had a quiet morning visit with her and my aunt. On the walk back, I found myself thinking of my father, passed away almost nineteen years ago, and his childhood in this place; these woods.
This forest may not be my forest, but it is a familiar landscape to my heart nonetheless. It is where my father spent time and developed his love of the outdoors. What he was looking for in those times, solace or solitude or something else, I’ll never know. I never talked to him about it. I didn’t realize we had this in common, that I also had this need for the forest in me, when he was still alive. I didn’t have the vocabulary or the insight to discuss it. I wish I had. So very much.
So instead of talking to my father about his life and experiences here and how they shaped him, I listened to the birds sing. I looked at the light in the trees. I enjoyed the quiet misty morning on my own, before heading back to my own forest. Home.