When I was a child I had a forest. Well… it was actually a rather small patch of land that had grown wild behind our house. It was a dense thicket of trees where the briers and brambles roamed free. All the trees had names because to me they were friends. There was the helicopter tree, the elbow tree the 3 sisters and so on. I would sit and talk to them and I’d pretend their creaks were a response. But the most amazing tree lay right at the start of my forest - the gateway tree. The roots of two trees became entwined and formed a pathway between the center of them. That was my tree. My father would joke that I was a sprite because I'd shimmy up the tree in a matter of seconds and stay there as long as possible, perched among the leaves.
I wasn’t allowed to go outside until someone in the house had woken up. My father would always find me sitting right by the door whenever he'd stumble into the kitchen to make coffee. As soon as he opened the door I would take off through the gateway tree and into my forest. The gateway tree was the door to my magical land that rivaled Terabithia. I’d usually be the first one there and my only two friends (keep in mind my “town” was about 4 blocks big…) Donald and Jimmy would trickle in later. It was the only place I ever felt safe. I would sit in a tree and watch the colors explode in the sky while the sun disappeared. My father's distinctive booming voice would signal the end of the day and the arrival of supper time. I'd scramble down from whatever tree I was in because he would only call 5 times and if I wasn't home after the 5th call, a spanking was sure to follow. While we ate my sister would usually wrinkle her nose and tell my I stink. Looking back I probably did as my mother would have to coax me into the shower. Most of the time I would turn the shower on and just sit on the toilet seat after wetting my hair and pretend I was in the showering. When I’d come out my mother would usually drag me back into the bathroom and demand that I strip and enter the bathtub. She’d sit on the toilet seat and check to make sure I was using shampoo and soap. I never wanted to shower because I loved the scent of the forest rubbed into my skin.
Then something happened that I’ll never forget as it marked the begining of a lesson I would learn over and over. One day I came outside and there were men standing by the my tree, chainsaws in hand. They were from the Lions club whose headquarters resided in the buillding next door which happened to be settled a good 15 feet from my tree. They claimed the tree was too close to the building and was old too old so it would fall soon and possibly damage it. so they inisted it was time to cut it down. I yelled and screamed demanding them to go away and leave my tree alone. My father had to drag me back inside. I stood by the window sobbing uncontrollably as they hacked into my tree. Suddenly the horrible grinding noise stopped and a stream of curses replaced it. The tree had broken the chainsaw. Apparently there used to be a fence near the tree while it was growing, the fence had embedded itself into the trunk of the tree. I prayed to whoever would hear me that they would go away.
Another man showed up with aother chainsaw and the noise began again. I was beyond crying and watched, hiccupping as one of the trees fell. They decided that the other one was far enough away so they stopped. When they had all left I ran to the tree and ran my hands over the rings whispering to it. The magic of it fled and from that moment on a bitter streak started. I used to vandalized the Lion’s Club building by carving into their doors and breaking windows. I would snarl at the men whenever they'd try and give me candy or would refuse to talk to them. I hated them for taking something away from me that was so dear. We moved out of that house when I was about 11 (I really don’t remember that time period at all as that was the time my mother left us). When I finally reached the age where I could drive, I’d visit my forest but it seemed so desolate. The current owners of the house had chopped more of the trees down and I would sit amidst the jagged stumps and cry. My forest was gone.
I’ve found a bit of a replacement in Muir Woods. But since I only have access to it for half a year (there’s a shuttle and I have no car) I don’t get to go nearly as much as I’d like. I did find a special place there. You follow a stream and it leads up through these rocks and BAM a little pond appears with a swing over it. It’s more than a little amazing. Pics of it can be found here.
Charles deLint (who is a brilliant author and one of my favs) writes about a place called your heart home or the forest of your heart. I know it’s strange but the forest that resides in my heart will always be that one. Its hard living in a city where I’m surrounded by trees but don’t have one to call my own. I can find plenty of magical places in the day time like this
but I miss creeping through the woods at night amidst the blues and purples that only the moon can entice out of the shadows. Since walking in the park at night isn’t the smartest idea I just stare out my window at our meager back yard and remember there was once a place I felt safe.