Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Winter Woods (or, peeling out the watchword)


Eight months ago, in the Catskills for the first time, I wandered through autumn woods. Leaves crackled red and gold underfoot, covered in the velvety dust of their own senescence.

Back then I had wildness on the mind– wildness as the seductive in the unknown; as the hint of risk on the darkened edge of understanding. And as I walked, crunching through the evidence of seasonal death and impending decay, I felt a pull from the gut– a pull forward into life.

Ladies by Amy McDermott on Grooveshark

Nearly a year later, it's late March and spring is hesitant in her arrival. I’m back in the Catskills, hiking those same trails, now frosted thick with snow. The creek runs low, frozen at its banks and fringed by barren, somber trees. Death and decay have taken their course, autumn's ember gone.

It kept me up last night– the woods as a reminder that life is finite. I lay awake, staring into blackness, grappling with my own mortality. Wrapped under the covers, I lamented my impermanent skin. Why live at all, if we have to die at the end of our short season?

This is not a new question– not for mankind, and not for me. But it's an important one, because it leads us to ask, what is worth living for? And when I keep that question close, I work to become my favorite self– inspired to embrace passion in the moment, and to find beauty in the details. Hell, it's only in facing death that I ever really live.


But in the routines of the everyday, it's easy to forget that death is an unpredictable certainty. We stop paying attention, stop asking ourselves what is worth living for, and let the end drift out of mind. The days pass unnoticed, and the weeks turn to a march of monotony and convenience. Soon, death doesn't seem a part of life at all. 
Mortality takes on the frightening nature of the unknown, even though its been there all along.

And there's the heart of all this– it is the element of the unknown, of wildness itself, that draws me back to the forest time and again, just as it is the wildness in our mortality that both inspires and terrifies me. Last autumn, it was the presence of death in the change of the seasons that grabbed me by the gut and pulled me forward. And now, in the stillness of late winter, it is once again that presence of death, and the fundamental wildness therein, that inspires me to step fully into life. 


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