Some of my earliest memories as a child are of going out into the woods behind my house in rural Massachusetts. Mostly I would just wander, or play in the murky water that collected in a big hole we affectionately called “the ditch.” And sometimes I would build elaborate tree forts by gathering big branches and leaning them up against trees I carefully selected. Looking back now, my parents were likely on the leading edge of what would today be labeled: “Free Range Parenting,” but back then was known as “letting your kids play outside.” It was glorious.
I learned a lot on my adventures in the woods – I learned that poison ivy was the price you paid for adventure (later I would actually learn how to avoid poison ivy but as a young child I had no idea such feats were possible and so built up the grit to take the good with the bad); I learned that birch bark is as fun to pick at as a scabby knee, maybe even more so; I learned that some friends are fun to take into the woods and some are not (never take a tit-for-tat friend into the woods unless you want to be unfairly forced into a swamp just because they fell in); and I learned that sometimes when your mind is clear, and the light is dimpling through the trees just so, and a breeze blows by in the most heavenly way – sometimes a peace can pass over you that is beyond your imagination and you can feel drawn in to the whole web of creation – the whole universe. And that it feels like Love.
Much later I would learn that encountering God in nature is a common human experience. I would learn that God is oftentimes most palpable in water and rivers, descending birds and mountaintops, out on rocky deserts and under shade trees. Later I would learn that feeling close to God was something that linked me to others more closely than I could ever imagine. I would learn that people told each other stories about their experiences with God, and had been telling those stories and then writing them down since ancient times and before. Later I would learn all these things, and draw wisdom from them, but as a child I knew only my own world and my own woods and my own encounter with an unnamable Love.