I go back and forth between whether I’m more of a mountain person or a beach person, debating which one is more my place in the world.
North Carolinians often deal with that struggle as we have our fair share of the two. Every time my toes hit that first bit of ocean froth, I am reminded of the peace and serenity we can find when floating weightless in the sea. There is a freedom in being completely supported by such a great force.
But then I come back to the woods.
There’s something about its complexity that draws me in—fellow woodland lovers will understand. We can walk the same path time and time again and always discover new things. It invites us into its secret hideaways, the places where the sun shines among the dark trees, and we become one with the forest.
We can feel the vastness of the ocean when we stand at its edge. The sea often makes us feel small. While humbling, it doesn’t compare with the oneness we can find in the woods, no matter how vast they may be.
Life comes with a myriad of transitions: new homes, new jobs, new friends, new places. I recently moved to another country with my husband and daughter, far from my family and closest friends. The forest has been my place of peace and solitude in this transition and many others. We can come to the forest—any forest—and no matter how foreign life may be, it feels like home.
Everything has its place here, as we all have our place in the world.
Moss covers the forest floor like a fuzzy green blanket. It is plush as it sinks beneath our feet. Baby firs are beginning to sprout up among the moisture. I watch my daughter play among them, feeling their needles between her tiny fingers. Sometimes she plucks them off and examines them one by one. With flowers and ferns wrapped in her curly hair, she too, has a place in the forest.
Butterflies flutter from flower to flower stopping where it suits them to partake in some of the sweet nectar. They never rush, never push another butterfly off of its bloom. They all have their place.
The wild flowers grow in haphazard arrangements creating the most beautiful patterns my eyes have seen. They twist around each other, sprout up among the weeds. While they appear to compete, they all get their time to smile up at the sun. They too have a place in the forest.
The birds chirp from the highest bows of the trees. We cannot see them, but their songs fill the air. They never sing over each other, but allow space for their friends to shine. However many there are, they all have a place in the forest.
Much can be learned among the society of the forest, and the animals and plants that make the woods their home.
I am passing my love of the woods onto my daughter. Sometimes she is a babbley little toddler, telling me all about the flowers and the butterflies and the rocks and sticks in words I don’t quite comprehend. Other times she lays back in her stroller and is serene, a welcome rarity in toddlerhood. A peaceful look graces her face, and I can tell she feels her place, too.
Children are wonderful that way. They don’t question if they belong, they just know.
As we grow, we often struggle to find our place in the forest of our lives, our families and our careers. The hustle and bustle of society tells us that we have to compete or outshine one another in order to have—and keep—our place. The woods can teach us that isn’t always true.
Maybe what we need is not more time to accomplish things or check tasks off a never-ending to-do list, but more time to retreat. We must allow ourselves to be part of the whole, rather than just a bystander. We must walk miles and miles along dusty paths, cluttered with tree roots and markings of the creatures that have come before us.
We need more time to come back to the earth and remind ourselves that everything has its place. We must only allow it to be.
Author: Michelle Carpenter
Image: via Emma Whitley
Editor: Nicole Cameron