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The "Ituri" I Call Home

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                       “But these are the feelings of outsiders, of those who do not

                        belong to the forest.  If you are of the forest it is a very

                        different place.  What seems to other people to be eternal

                        and depressing gloom becomes a cool, restful, shady world

                        with light filtering lazily through the tree tops that meet high

                        overhead…”[i]

When we pulled up to the property with our realtor and made our way around the back yard that hot July morning, I knew in an instant that I was home.  In balancing the needs and desires of my spouse with my own, we had been unable to choose a house, yet something about this place called me.  It had all the amenities and “location” that my wife sought for herself, with a special attraction for me: a forest paradise. 

 

Certainly it was a typical home in a typical middle-class neighborhood, yet gazing down the sloping ravine that marked the very back of the property was a miniature forest, a 90’  by 45’ pie-shaped slice of trees and dense undergrowth that provided utter seclusion.  Filled with a variety of flora and fauna, I stood amazed by the biodiversity.  Catbirds and wrens, possums and moles, elms and nettles dotted the lower landscape like a pastoral portrait complete with smells and sounds.  Surely this I could call home.

 

As a youth, I had been filled with the fascination and wonder that only an innocent can possess of Stone State Park in Iowa, my childhood home.  As I grew older, I made long bike trips to the park, arising sometimes as early as 4:30 A.M. on school days, to enjoy the sounds and sights, smells and beauty of this forest world.  Even at dusk, that forest held a deep meaning for me, the droning of the noble cicadas lulling my mind’s eye into another world, beckoning to me like winged minstrels of Nature herself.

 

In a way, this slice of forest which I now possess represents more than weeds and choking vines, trees and stinging bushes; it represents an age of fascination for me, an era nearly wholly engulfed by the cares and responsibilities of a fast paced world.  When I descend into my Ituri, I ascend into an existentialist world of panentheistic oneness, where, like the BaMbuti, I become a “’miki nde ndura’ - son of the forest.”[ii]  My identification with the natural world largely mirrors that of the BaMbuti pygmy, and although I cannot - nor can I realistically attempt to - sustain myself on its Motherly abundance, I feel the soft voice of Her calling to my soul each and every time I enter my tiny forest world. 

 

Still, my scientific mind has compelled me to begin cataloging its biodiversity and augmenting it with plantings of discrete, native flora to enhance the forest ecosystem.  I have added a modest pond and a stone and wood chip trail, neatly and conservatively maintained to allow me physical access while minimizing its impact on the undergrowth.  I have even recycled milk cartons, carved, painted and hung to provide housing for the variety of birds which frequent the woods and thickets.  I provide for the wildlife, and do not even begrudge the raccoons that periodically feed on my small stock of fish, their wet, departing foot prints leading somewhere into the field below.

 

Two years later, my spouse and in-laws still frown and scoff at the ravine, offering unsolicited advice on cutting, weeding and seeding that would meet their more suburban expectations.  Yet this microcosm - a temperate “Ituri” of my own - stands as the last vestige of my own will, my decision to hold firm and not back down to “urbanizing” that with which my soul so deeply identifies.

 

Anecdotally, just weeks after moving in, I walked out into the otherwise well manicured backyard and placed a foot into my sandals which sat just outside the patio door.  Only then did I feel it: the crunching of some thing against my skin.  When I withdrew my foot, I discovered to my horror that I had inadvertently maimed a cicada freshly emerging from its final skin, the life juices steadily flowing out of its carapace.  I felt terrible, like a hypocritical son who committed matricide against Nature Herself..  I gently placed the dying creature into a secluded area and felt I had somehow squandered the wondrous gift that had been granted to me by the forest.  It affected my heart deeply. 

 

Days later as I repeated my foray into yard, I picked up my sandal and carefully inspected it, not expecting anything in particular, yet cognizant of the mishap that had earlier befallen.  It was then that I saw it!  Another freshly emerged cicada, its wings not yet fully inflated, clinging gently to the inside of my sandal.  It was the forest, I knew, showing me that I was redeemed, forgiven.  We were in unison, our spirits still dancing as one.

                        “…so, after watching a while, I came into the clearing and

                        asked [Kenge], jokingly, why he was dancing alone.  He

                        stopped, turned slowly around and looked at me as though

                        I was the biggest fool he had ever seen…

                        ‘But I’m not dancing alone,’ he said.  ‘I am dancing with the

                        forest, dancing with the moon.’”[iii]



[i] Colin M. Turnbull The Forest People (Simon & Schuster, New York, 1962) p 12

[ii] Turnbull, p 236

 [iii] Turnbull, p 272

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