Once again I am at the cabin, a solitary refuge tucked away in the woods. Once again, the woods do not disappoint. Indeed this time, they outdo themselves. For six hours, the skies showered them with snow. For six hours, the trees stood like so many buoyant children, heads tilted upward, arms outstretched, welcoming, delighting in, the snow.
Looking outside now, I can see that I am surrounded by mounds of the glinting, gleaming, glistening freshly fallen stuff. At moments such as these, the woods are enchanting, seductive, alluring. They are calm, serene, still, deep, soothing, healing. It is hard to cease praising them. From the base of their sturdy trunks to the very tips of their delicate limbs, they are draped in their snow-dappled mantle. In their quiet majesty, they subdue and overwhelm. For the moment, they are all that exists. I can see no other house but mine; no road; no hint of humanity beyond my own.
If the woods were not so lovely, they would be threatening. It is they who have the power. I am their supplicant. They are my guardians. I am their guest. Quite different from what we experience back in the paved-over, built-up, rushed-through environment of civilization, where we reign, or so we think, and at our best act as guardians of the trees. We know what we are like at our worst.
But perhaps the woods here look so lovely because I am warm and snug inside. I am tucked away in the cabin, while the woods remain safely out there. As long as I stay here, they cannot menace me, cannot lead me deep into their thickening midst, or turn me around and cause me to lose my way. They cannot suddenly loose a bear or wolf on me. They cannot cause me to fall into a root pit camouflaged with the cover of snow.
Paradoxically, my inside refuge comes from them as well. For this cabin is made from them. The walls are pine logs, rough on the outside and shaved and finished on the inside. The floor is hickory; the cabinets cherry. It is wood that protects me from the woods. The tamed protecting me from the wild.
And yet, there is something wonderful, at this safe remove, to be able to feel the fear of the wild that the woods once caused our ancestors. I remember as a child, sitting in the suburbs of Pikesville, listening to “Peter and the Wolf” and wondering where such a terrifying, wonderful place as those woods could be. Surely not among the well-mown lawns of our neighborhood. What would it have felt like to know nature that way! What have we lost by shielding ourselves from such feelings.
But the truth is, nature still can ambush us unexpectedly. Haiti is only the latest, tragic reminder of that. How much more prepared would we be practically, how much richer spiritually, how much more sated economically, how much more inventive scientifically if we could once again experience the awesome rawness of nature.
So to be in the woods, able to reach out and touch the edges of nature’s raw wildness and the terror it conjures up, all the while risking little to myself, is a rare joy, and a valuable lesson.
It will be light soon. The animals will be stirring and the mystery of the woods will recede. I better go find my boots.