Between the drive south, the week on the ship, a week in Palo Alto, a week driving Jem out to Missouri, flying back to California, driving back up the coast – (whew – I’m tired just thinking about all those miles!) – I managed to spend pretty much all of August away from the farm. I’ve been back for a week now, but have been having a hard time getting settled in and couldn’t figure out why.
It was the woods, of course – it had been over a month since I’d been lost in the north 20 woods. Getting lost up there helps me find myself. And not only is it a rejuvenating, centering experience, it’s one of the few games that you automatically get better at the less you play it.
The realization came to me after a morning spent pounding my forehead at insoluble compiler errors. From there, it was a simple matter of putting on my muck boots, Carhartts and adventure hat, grabbing my latest brush stick and heading north along an only vaguely-remembered path branching off behind the community garden.
I called for Blue, of course – it’s been that same length of time since he’d been lost in the woods with me – but he was nowhere to be found. Perhaps he was busy getting lost somewhere else? Not that I believe Blue is ever actually lost when we’re in the woods together. I think, more than anything, that he’s just likes the company and is willing to humor me.
I lost the trail pretty much right off the bat, even before the first gully, but stumbled back onto it and made my way up to the first cedar grove. The blackberries out here don’t get enough sun and heat to be anywhere near ripe – you’ve got to head down to the pond for that. And the salmon berries are all done, but the lesser-known gifts of the forest were everywhere: bright gooseberries, pucker-worthy Oregon grape, juicy salal berries with that hint of the unnamable.
And the woods were alive with fauna as well. Things crackling in the trees ahead – bear? Or hyperactive squirrel? Jays swooping, calling. A woodpecker hammering away. Signs of housecleaning in tiny dens dug in between the roots of rotting trees.
Made it up past coyote skull grove before really getting lost. I was sure there was a jog to the right that I missed, because where I should be plunging into the nettle swamp, there was only salal and more salal. Mission accomplished. Of course, getting lost is only ever half the fun. Maybe a third if you count “figuring out where you are” and “getting back out” as two separate steps.
Then again, sometimes you never really figure out where you were. There are half a dozen lovely little places I’ve stumbled upon once in these woods and never been able to find again. Which is somewhat an inversion of the original problem: it’s parts of the woods that get lost, not their explorer. The statistician in me delights in this phenomenon because resampling theory suggests that this means there are still plenty of interesting spots in these woods, in this unassuming little 20 acre patch, that I’ve never seen. And that’s more than enough to get me to dive in again.