Tuesday, October 6, 2009

In the Woods

The woods I grew up in were clear cut during the years I spent making my way in the world. By the time I came back to where I’d been raised, to look it over and size up it’s importance to me, it looked, and was, so different as to be irrelevant. This led to my memories of growing up being the only link I had to the past and, being intangible, they were all the more easily enshrined.

Nothing remained as a touchstone. Gone were the trees, the long days running among them, and the animals my friends and I occasionally startled from the undergrowth, or whose nests we’d find and investigate, or whose spoor we’d track, pretending to be on safari. Gone, too, were the streams we’d leap over or splash through, and the tall ferns we’d lie down among to imagine ourselves back in dinosaur days. Gone were the deer paths, the rabbit warrens, and the bushes dense with berries where we’d find a snack that stained us inside and out, tongues, lips, and fingers, shirts and jeans.

So my childhood woods were internalized. What else could be done with those memories but to swallow them? And naturally, over the course of further years, as I handled them, they rounded and smoothed and began to fit together better into a coherent story, because that is what we do, we make up stories to cover the gaps in memory, in knowledge, and in experience.

In this way we build a life, and yet, paradoxically, also end up lost in our own inner woods, in an artificial landscape of our own devising, one that teaches us perhaps more about our wishes than our lives, and more about our fantasies than our hard knocks. Those cuts and bruises of being a little kid, those gulps of cold water on hot summer days when you come in panting and smiling fresh from laughter and running, those clear moments of pure joy fade into just another twinkle of fairy dust in a tale told by an idiot who should for once know better.

Gold into lead; it is an alchemy of disappointment and diminished expectations, hopes, and dreams, and it leaves us wandering in the woods with a handful of electroplated junk metal and shiny plastic slag extruded from our hopes and dreams, the pieces of potential we fashioned into a real live life, and eventually these replacements, these transformations, and these ashes of fizzled magic weigh us down.

That’s when we try to go home, to find more of the good stuff, and that’s when we usually find home gone, itself shrunken and changed and unrecognizable. And that’s when we realize we’re lost in the clear cut woods and, worse, we’re alone there.

Alone with the shadows.

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