Exploring unmanaged natural areas rather than the groomed trails of "nature centers" requires the explorer to pay attention to his surroundings.
-story and photos by James Inabinet
Not far from here (and not very long ago) at the “tree-falling-place” near Copperhead Creek, I was sitting with my back against a water oak. It was early morning, but already very warm and mosquito-y during late summer’s Moon-of-Orb-Weavers. I was watching juvenile squirrels chase each other in the canopy, the lead squirrel mere inches ahead of the other, making noisy spirals around a pine tree, running down a limb, jumping at least ten feet (!) to a water oak limb, running to its end, leaping to a black gum and down onto the ground out of sight.
I sat there waiting to see if they would reappear, perhaps on the lone pine to the east near the bayou, or maybe in the thicket of young water oaks to the south. Sitting and thinking of nothing, I heard an enormous, abrupt cracking sound that pulled me from my reverie.
To my left, about fifty feet away, a huge pine tree simply fell to the ground, its top mere feet from me. With racing heart I stood and instantly remembered noticing that tree when I arrived. It had an unnatural crook in the trunk about twenty feet up belying its weakness, probably the result of a hurricane. Now it finally fell. I was there to witness it – too near. If I had been sitting over there...
If anything “is what it is,” it’s wild Nature. Its ways are not our ways, its purposes not exclusively ours. This is the real Nature, the mother of all her children in their evanescent beauty and sublime wildness, even the spiders, ticks, snakes, and falling trees. She contains and holds them all. I’m included, but there is more afoot than my agenda alone – perhaps my survival.
Regardless of where I may be or how well I am protected from risk, in wild nature every waking moment may be my last. But isn’t that true no matter where we are?
There’s a power in knowing that and understanding what it really means, a power for doing. In wildish nature myriad beings arise, live out lives, and die. All that are born eventually make room for another. That is the way of nature; a way that bears keeping in mind. Each being has a lifespan. I too have a lifespan. Lifespans can get cut short. Every sojourn into the forest may be my last, and that has to become OK.
In this sense, I am no different than tree, squirrel, or earthworm. Trees fall and die; squirrels become food for hawks; earthworms are eaten by mockingbirds. I am no different than these creatures, or even a single-celled being. While it lives, every tiny amoeba and paramecium does what it does according to its nature and milieu, making the most of the time it has.
This is what we as human beings are called to do in living energetically, in living with passion. These cells do the doings of cells and in so doing emanate cellness.
Similarly, we are called to do the doings of human beings, as unique and particular human beings, awake and aware. We are called to make the most of our time during our brief sojourn in this marvelous place at this amazing time so we may emanate humanness.
I feel safe in this place and put my trust in it. I have a feeling of being held by sheer grace here, but these feelings are not to be confused with mistaken notions that I am ever absolutely safe and that this place will protect me. The naive who feel this way have never rather helplessly sat and listened to the sounds of a hurricane’s violent winds, cracking trees, and breaking glass or sat next to a huge falling pine tree.
Being in the real nature requires a certain level of paying attention. It requires more than blithely going into the forest on an unthinking “la-te-da-go-sit-in-nature” excursion, the kind one might undertake in well-groomed city parks where lawsuit-wary landscapers weed out dangers of falling trees, trip spots and hornet nests. Wild nature, like La Terre, is no protective cocoon or womb.
To be sure, we’ve left the womb and there’s no cocoon to sit in – nor would we want to be in one. That would be boring; who would want that? To be sure, nature can seem cruel. It’s not cruel but rather, it’s exacting. We cannot go into wild nature oblivious to our surroundings like we can in our relatively safe and cozy bedrooms or city parks.
I should have paid attention to my initial noticing of the damaged tree.