Yesterday was our first day back in Downers Grove. We spent last week in upstate New York. Since I have just graduated, I thought a trip to the place I grew up was in order, a full circle sort of thing.
We saw a lot of friends, and had a great time on our visit, but one of the main reasons for the trip was a little more primal. I wanted to walk the forest I grew up with.
Rebecca stood beside me as I knocked on the door of the house I was raised in, and a woman answered, a bit surprised at the sight of two unannounced visitors. I quickly identified myself, and she invited us in. Walking through the house was wild. A flood of memories would arrive in each room. It also seemed so small. I must've been smaller when I was making all those memories.
The tour of the house was quite an experience, but what I really wanted was to hike through the woods behind the house.
Only now do I realize how lucky I was to grow up so close to nature. Living in San Diego for three years left me starved for trees, and a part of me still holds a quiet sympathy for the children of that city, of any city. The ones with an alley for a backyard, a trip to the park the only routine contact with anything resembling the natural world. Chicago is definitely greener, but the longing for a tangible forest persists.
I've been thinking alot about where to live, where to create a home. Since I had so much nature as a child, I owe it to my children to give them more than concrete. I owe it to myself as well.
This trip to New York was meant to put things in perspective for me. Are my memories of the woods out of proportion? Would the forest feel as small as the big house did upon my return? I had to know, and had to show Rebecca where I came from, what inspires me.
We walked into the woods, past my old tree fort, a route I could walk in pitch dark.
To be perfectly honest, another reason for this adventure was to help me put my past behind myself. Since I moved away in 2005 I've been pining away for the place I grew up. Nostalgia is only useful as a device to help create a better future. I can't be stuck in the past, no matter how clean it felt.
I set two intentions in those woods.
One: to leave a part of myself there, the part that can't be anywhere else. To this aim, I brought the hair we cut off during my graduation ceremony. I scattered the hair in those woods, freeing what's left of myself from the bonds of nostalgia.
Two: to find a souvenir. I was going to leave a tiny piece of my body there, as well as a large chunk of my life. I asked the forest for a souvenir, something to remember it by, something to inspire me, free of attachment. This second objective proved more elusive than the first.
The difficult thing about asking the forest for a gift is being able to recognize it without looking for it. You have to let it come to you.
I've collected a lot of rocks, pinecones, twigs, etc from the places I've been. For that reason, I thought this souvenir would be something a little different, like an antler, or an animal bone. Beggars definitely can't be choosers though.
We walked, and always the souvenir was in the back of my mind. I almost drove myself crazy. It was like an easter egg hunt, my mind always asking, "maybe it's over there? maybe it's behind this log? maybe it is this log?"
I stopped looking, nearly forgot about it. We were on a favorite stretch of trail (aren't they all favorites?) and I saw some garbage, the remains of a styrofoam takeout container. My instinct was to pick up the trash, make the woods better. But the maintenance of this land was no longer my duty, and I hesitated. Then I knew it. If I picked up he garbage, I would find the souvenir. It was a pact with the forest. I had to earn my prize. I stepped off the trail and walked the 20 or 30 feet to the litter. I plucked the greying styrofoam from the soil, half expecting to find a diamond underneath it. There was no diamond, though. Only dirt.
I turned back toward the trail, and saw Rebecca sitting on a treestump. She was smiling with a secret, peering at me through the hollow old bone that she had just picked up from the ground.