Early morning in the Adirondack woods – north of Albany, just inside the park. The forest is of hemlock here, mostly, and white pine. There are birches, white and black, beech, red oak, basswood, and maples. Their leafy branches are more noticeable, more conspicuous than the needled foliage, and one would tend to call this forest deciduous.
But it is not.
Those whose habits are in walking the woods, those who watch the trees and come to know how each individual grows, know different. The tallest and straightest trunks in every direction are evergreen.
The light from the east has not yet penetrated the stands of timber that surround our little house, though it is quite light by now. In the growing ambient illumination, the hues of green intensify, vary, and the forest deepens as lighter shades of green appear beyond others in long views through holes in the foliage. The forest is waking up, and the color comes on, grows as things in the forest begin.
The air is still still, though just barely, and the mist that took all night to gather still hangs in the trees, though not for long. It is not like the fog where I come from that lays in thick sheets, condenses, and drips from eucalyptus branches. This is a true mist, gossamer, subtle and immaterial, like an ambient quality to the air, a characteristic of atmosphere more than a presence. So thin you have to ask yourself if it is really there. Maybe your glasses just need cleaning or you still need to shake off your sleep. No matter. As soon as the sun needles its way low through the trees and lights on branches, it will be gone, dissolved back into the fabric of the air, the forest itself shaking off its own sleep, the torpor of the night.
I see it now, through the mist that rises from my mug of coffee, the first bright rays of sun. It will all begin in moment. My wife will be up and padding in for coffee, the kids will rise not long after that, and my attention will be needed elsewhere. But for now, I am here, witnessing the advent of day in the northern woods. And I feel lucky. The sun’s rays for now newly shine through the leafy and needled canopy. But in a moment, that too will be gone. There are clouds in the sky today, perhaps showers are in store, and the sun will likely be periodic at best.
Sitting here in the slow waking, I feel myself blending. The boundaries blur and what separates me from the world of trees and rocks and flowing water grows thin. Couldn’t I just stay here? Blend in? Grow wild and lean with original energy? Maybe I would grow hair, become long in tooth and claw.
That temptation is always there for me in places like this, calling from somewhere pure and permanent. The instructions to blend are written indelibly in me – I suspect in all of us – and this place feels like my first home.
But I am not wild, not only wild, that is. I am not wholly wild like that chipmunk, not merely wily like the trout in the stream or the coyotes I heard through the dark last night. And I am not solely dependent on my wits to survive. I am a creature of comfort and society. My fate lies in the company of people, in love and language and thoughts and plans.
But here, for a time, I am closer to original being.
It is not hard to feel. Give yourself moments of quiet to watch what goes on around you in wild places and you feel it seep into you – the immensity of what we are living, the indifference of nature that takes care of you not for love or obligation, but because somewhere underneath the routines of career and commute, you still know how to live in harmony with nature and nature’s laws.
It is permanent, inscribed where you cannot erase it, your place in the world.