I was raised by hippies. This meant that while many of my friends in the Bible Belt town I was raised in spent Sundays in church, my family spent it either at the flea market, or out in nature. It was something I didn’t enjoy, actually. I wanted to be the same. To not be the only little girl at the Wendy’s at noon on Sunday who was wearing jogging pants instead of a fancy dress. To not spend the day trapped in a car, listening to the music of my father’s youth, while we drove out to some remote location for a hike.
Now I have children of my own, though, and being a parent myself changes things. I want my kids to get outside. I want them to spend time running and playing, instead of sitting and watching. However, most of our outside time is logged on the playground, or in our own backyard. This is something that I am okay with, generally speaking. It’s easier, because while they play I can sit, or chat with a friend – or if they’re in our yard, I can make dinner or work. After my own tenuous relationship with hiking as a child, I haven’t made much of an effort to actually get out into the forest with my kids.
Yesterday, though, was a rare sunny day in January, and getting outdoors seemed like a good idea. I thought we’d visit a regional park with some easy walking trails, just to switch things up. It was the perfect day for it, and the mist creeping out across the lake lent the whole scene a magical, idyllic sort of an air. There was a thin layer of ice on the water, and my children were having fun tossing gravel on it, watching the pebbles bounce along the surface. As they did, I heard the strangest sound. It wasn’t just the sound of the rocks on top of the ice – you could hear the reverberation through the ice and the murky water below. As I listened, I paused to take in the scene around me. The way the light shone. The smells in the air.
Standing on that gravel trail, it hit me like a ton of bricks. There are things I want my children to know, that maybe I even need them to know. Things like the way that rotting logs smell on the forest floor – sweet and earthy, with a hint of something fungal. The tang of the huckleberries that grow in the forest shade in the height of summer. How to navigate the roots and the rocks. The casual, friendly etiquette that hikers share, as they pass on the trail. The way that it’s always darker in the forest, under the canopy of tall trees, silently keeping their watch. The thrill of achievement as you take in the view from the top of a mountain, a real mountain, that you climbed yourself.
For me, the forest here isn’t only the scene of the forced marches of my childhood. It’s also a constant feature of the area, a distinctive landscape of this place I call home. Of course, there are forests everywhere, but the truth is each forest is different. If you drive two hours east of here, the forest changes. The trees are shorter, the spaces between them bigger. This Pacific Northwest rainforest is one of the things I think of when I think of home. I want my children to feel at home in it, too. To know its tastes, smells, sounds and textures.
As I get older, I find myself returning to what I know more and more. Those experiences that shaped me and made me who I am. The touchstones of my past, for good or ill. Those lessons I learned while wading in cold streams, climbing trees or picking blackberries. I want to share them all with my children. Maybe not in the same way, and maybe not to the same soundtrack in the car. They are all part of who I am, part of their inheritance, picked up as I spent those Sundays in the place that was my parents’ truest spiritual home. Because while I do take my kids to church, I know that some lessons require a different sort of cathedral, roofed by branches and surrounded by all of creation.