In the woods, everything becomes real. When I stand back and inspect the tent I’ve set up, the reality that I’ll be sleeping here beneath the trees sets in. Suddenly, the city seems to be a world away. I am cut loose from the burdensome feeling of living inside a display case under bright lights. Layers of sunlight and shadow unfold all around me. I begin to feel like the animal that lives inside me. All of my senses are fully engaged, but not to an overwhelming degree. It isn’t like being bombarded by sensory input at home. Every delicate sound echoes through the shade, rings back to me from the bark of trees. Every little movement is a significant event. The smells of wood fire and earth saturate me. I feel connected to all of it.
The trees all around my tent seem to stand as if they have been waiting there for me, waiting to welcome me back. As I begin to wander amongst them, I get a sense as of someone getting acquainted with new friends. Even just a brief stroll around bears countless discoveries. Every rock, fallen branch, tiny toad, is an experience unto itself. A doe and her fawns leap across my line of vision, prancing off into the shadows. A woodpecker raps out a steady rhythm right above me. Bird songs stretch across the wide expanse of space beneath the canopy. The sounds of crunching leaves and twigs beneath my feet are my tangible proof that I am truly here, that this is not a lucid dream.
As the sun sinks below the western treeline, the roaring, crackling fire licks at the meat on the grate. The air begins to cool, and the cicada symphony quiets to a hum. The crickets join in, and the night song begins. A distant owl calls out to its mate. Eventually, packs of coyotes can be heard howling from one territory to another. This always stirs an excitement that swells in my chest. Their chorusing voices arouse a childlike hope that I might get to see them. Not quite ready to succumb to sleep yet, I hike down to the lake in the darkness. The moon is so bright, I can see all the way from my tent to the other side of the water effortlessly. Looking up, the sky is so thoroughly speckled with stars, it looks like a little blackness sprinkled into a sea of light. Wading into the shallows of the lake, the chill of the water mercifully calms the feverish throbbing of my tired feet. The soft sand beneath them cradles my stance as I look out across the moonlit surface of the water. I could live in this very moment for an eternity and want for nothing.
The routine of life drains my energy, my inspiration, and all meaning out of carrying on. The incessantly loud, angry shouting of my neighbors puts me off human beings. Garbage blowing from their pile into my yard makes my one little piece of the outdoors feel more like a burden than a haven. I can’t expect a moment’s peace without one or several of them walking over and talking at me. I need to get out of the city for periods of time. It isn’t a hobby, it’s a mental health treatment. It makes me whole again. It feeds the stores in me that are depleted by my life in the city. It gives my inner animal a chance to stretch its legs, shake the dust out of its coat, and run wild for a time. Sometimes, at the day’s end, I need to find myself dirty, tired, and happy.