Words by Mandy L Smith
Stepping onto the path, breathing deep, and feeling the rush of soil, green, and bark. Nature is our greatest teacher. Personally, I find myself connecting with Nature on a deeper level each time I enter a forest, more than any other ecosystem. I grew up traipsing through the forests of Western Pennsylvania, surrounded by oaks and hemlocks. Since then, I found myself living in different parts of the country. Each time, I find a forest. There are different species of plants and animals, scents, and bark textures to touch, but they all teach me valuable lessons about life, relationships, and my Self. At times, I asked for answers; other times, lessons came when I needed them the most.
Today, I find myself in a mixed forest of beech, oak, and maple. There are sounds of wood thrush and red-eyed vireo. I sit reading Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer and one quote keeps coming to the forefront of my mind, "The land knows you, even when you are lost." I feel the smoothness of the beech's gray bark. These trees conjure up memories of a faithful forest hundreds of miles away that helped me heal. A forest that I became guardian of and which aided me in finding my true essence. I had been in a dark, negative place. That forest knew me, even when I did not know myself - when I had been lost.
In January 2010, I moved from the center of a small town to its rural outskirts. It was a place that included several acres of forest. My landlords were kind and encouraged me and my dog, Abbie, to explore as much as we liked. I had been on Maryland’s Eastern Shore for almost two years and still carried anxiety, anger, depression, and negativity with me. These were the lingering effects from jobs that were filled with negative atmospheres and the symptoms of the Lyme disease that I had contracted in 2008. Lyme disease truly turned my world upside down. I could no longer participate in the activities I loved. Every day, I was not sure how I would feel physically or mentally. Healing for the previous two years had been a struggle.
Moving was a fresh perspective and the forest greeted me with open arms. As spring unfolded, trout lilies burst into bloom along a small stream; the pond became a stage for frog choruses; and spring beauties led us down paths to discover magical vernal pools. Abbie and I explored the forest, observing and getting to know her seasons. Years prior to my landlords owning the property, others had littered and allowed invasive plants to move in. I would have weekend clean-up mornings, removing litter, honeysuckle, and English ivy. As I was aiding the forest, I found myself beginning to heal. I was starting to feel like myself again. It was a coming home to my true essence.
By taking time to listen to the forest, I listened to myself. Moving through the forest, I moved in my natural way. I read under the shade of her chestnut oaks. I danced naked under the blue moon surrounded by her sentinels. I watched a lunar eclipse through her branches as trumpet swans whistled sweetly overhead. I woke up to the songs of pewees and wood thrushes. I followed the tracks of red fox in soft snow. I collected kindling from her floor for bonfires that circled up kindred spirits. I fell asleep to the calls of gray treefrogs and trills of Fowler’s toads.
That land, the forest, she knew me. She held space for me to weep, to dance, to discover, to dream. She taught me to trust my intuition and to once again express gratitude. She led me back to my center. I returned to find myself. For three and a half years, the forest guided me in my healing. I began to think more positively as the negativity dissipated. I found myself in a gentle frame of mind, forgiving the past, the Lyme spirochetes, and forgiving myself.
The forest only knows the present moment. That was the most powerful lesson of all. There is no lost in the “now.” I found beauty in just being, moment after moment.
It has been over four years since I walked through her vernal pools and stood under her beeches and oaks. The lessons are embedded in my heart. The forest that I stand in today, that follows lakes and gorges, has more to teach me. It knows what I need to learn. I will listen.
Mandy L. Smith wishes for every being to actualize their potential. She walks lightly honoring the sacredness of Nature and the wildness of this present path, delving into the depths of Being, keeping truths, and weaving connections. She is now the guide of a little tot, who also loves the forest.