The Woods

I come from the woods.

The woods is where I grew up running down trails slick with pine straw, where I explored through brambles and thickets, where I climbed higher higher higher on pine trees laid low by hurricanes and criss-crossed like so many pick-up sticks.

Baw and I rode our horses through the woods. We’d lope along tethered together by a guide rope. He’d break me off a branch of huckleberries sometimes, and I’d eat them one by one, each a little pop of gritty sweetness.

When you sit among the loblollies, bay laurel, and red oak the air feels different because it is different. The air is filtered back to you as pure oxygen — oxygen that improves your mood, helps you sleep, makes you more alert. Is that a Bobwhite I hear? Baw could call to the Bobwhites and they’d answer back.

These woods are home.

The city is where I live now, and we have no woods. Trees, yes. Beautiful trees awash in bright fall colors line my street like gaudy maidens on a promenade. But woods? No. Sure you can go to the state park or a hiking trail. But those places aren’t home woods. They’re not my woods.

I went to the woods — my woods — for Thanksgiving. It had been a minute since my last trip home because Mama and Daddy come visit me more now. I’d forgotten how the scent of evergreen washes over you as soon as you open the car door. I’d forgotten about the gentle whisper of the wind through the pine needles. I’d forgotten what it was like to turn in any direction and see nothing but woods.

After our big midday meal, Husband and I took a walk in the woods. We went all the way down to “the branch” which is what we call the swampy area to the back of our land where Mill Creek gurgles its way through to feed the lake at the golf course. The branch is my favorite place.

It’s cooler down there, shady. The ground goes from sandy to swampy, with mud that will wrap around your ankles and try to hold you there. There’s less undergrowth but somehow it seems wilder. The expanse of grey-brown trees and ground is interrupted by bright green shocks of moss scattered here and there like jewels of the swamp. The water burbles away and lulls you into quiet contemplation of a single spot where the creek trickles over a few sticks and leaves into a little rippled pool, foamy at the edges, transparent.

After a while you make your way back up the embankment to the fire line to walk home. Almost as if you are in a trance you stumble across the runnels, the vines and branches pulling at your hair and sweater as if beckoning you to not to go. You think you hear the wind saying “Stay. Stay here in the branch. Don’t go.”

Back up on the path, the sun is bright again, the ground sandy. You hear dogs barking and a distant Crack! to remind you that it’s hunting season. You wonder just how far a bullet can travel through the woods. Would you know if it hit you? Would you see your blood seeping down through the white Alabama sand as the earth swallowed your life up?

Back inside the house, the woods still called to me. I had to go back out.

The next day, by myself, I forged through the thicker parts. This is no walking trail, no woodland stroll. This is slithering through the wild scuppernong vines and briars. This is getting to a spot where you can finally stand up all the way and not knowing how you’ll scramble back out again. The woods close in on you and embrace you in a way that may smother you into beautiful oblivion.

This is where you become one.

I get the feeling the woods have missed me as much as I’ve missed them — neither one of us knowing how much the other was valued, cherished. And in my walks, the prodigal daughter has been welcomed back, forgiven. For it is from the woods that I have come, and it is to the woods that I will someday return.