“But these are the feelings of outsiders, of those who
belong to the forest. If you are
of the forest it is a very
What seems to other people to be eternal
and depressing gloom becomes a cool, restful,
with light filtering lazily through the tree
tops that meet high
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
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.
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
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