What We Leave in the Woods
I was sitting in my special spot, waiting for the magic to happen. The haze over the mountains was almost too on-the-nose; if it weren’t so entrancing (giving the mountains a matte quality, making them look like the false backdrops in old Hollywood movies), I probably would’ve laughed at the cliché.
After all, I’d spent that entire morning in – well – a haze. And it wasn’t just haziness – what accompanied it was a distinct feeling of urgency. It’s like in a dream when you are desperately thirsty, but no matter how much you drink, you can’t find relief. I’d felt a quickness and a sort of intangible emotional exigency as I’d pressed toward the summit, to my spot.
My special spot is an uncomfortable, you-probably-don’t-want-to-sit-on-it-for-too-long rock at the top of Mount Falcon, about 10-15 steps beyond, and tucked away from, a beautiful lookout point at the summit. There is a sparse pine tree to the right that partially blocks the field of vision. I love that tree; I imagine it stubbornly refusing to move, despite blocking the view, like a tall person who shows up to a concert early to get a spot near the stage, who people get mad at for being tall and in the front, who the tall person then admonishes for not showing up earlier and refuses to move. Good for you, tree.
I waited impatiently for my magical moment of clarity. However, much like the dream, where relief only comes in the waking up, it took the sound of hikers talking to bring me elsewhere. They were discussing the lacquered sign memorializing The Summer House, a mansion-like summer home a man, John Walker, and his hired architect, J.B. Benedict, intended to build for the U.S. president back in the early 1900s. The construction site is marked by a white marble stone and other less remarkable stones that outline the foundation. The home was never built.
It was at that moment I began to think about something less hazy:
What we leave in the woods.
It’s not uncommon that we come across things in our lives that remind us of our unrealities: dreams unfulfilled, opportunities not availed, relationships not pursued, jobs not taken, flights not booked, adventures not experienced. I look at that marble stone and can’t help but feel sadness, to imagine the excitement, pride, and confidence they had when they placed it there, to feel in it their aspiration and ambition, to appreciate the courage it took to leave the stone behind.
Rubble can be so painful. As imagination takes hold and the scaffolding of our fantasies rises into the skies, these unrealities start to feel alarmingly real. We see and feel what we “missed out” on. The textures of what-could-have-been are soft and silky but leave our hands raw and wanting. We become so focused on rubble that we forget what-is.
In less than two months, I will hopefully begin my thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail. I’ve been asked more times than I can count (most often by myself) why I am hiking the trail, and while I don’t come up short in desire, I am usually at a bumbling loss for answers. But as I sat uncomfortably on my rock, thinking of The Summer House, an objective of my thru-hike became abundantly clear: to understand what I have left in the woods.
And as I think now of my obstinate tree, my matte mountains, my rock that would prefer I not sit on it, which all cease to exist in The Summer House reality, I recognize something that is perhaps more important:
What we find in the woods.
We must discover and come to terms with our rubble. We must hold the stones in our hands, feel their weight, roughness, and sharp edges. We must feel the sadness and loss of what we could have built with them. But then, even in the gravity of their potential, we must put them down. We must step back. We must keep walking in the woods. We must see what we can find.
Because there is so much beauty to be found beyond the rubble.
So, as you step into your own woods, ask yourself: what is your rubble? What are the stones you cling to? What must you leave behind?
And, most importantly, as you walk:
What will you find?
P.S. The feature image is not quite from the vantage point of the special spot; the special spot is to the right, closer to the pine tree 🙂
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