I have the great fortune for the next couple of weeks of house-sitting for my friend. Her property lies at the edge of a vast wooded area in Hollis, and it is here that I am once more able to enjoy the peace, quiet and serenity that are so crucial to my own survival. I sit on the screened porch and listen to the buzz of late summer insects plying the air with their song. Birds titter from nearby trees, tree toads trill from their clandestine places, and the setting sun casts long deep distinct shadows between the tall ancient pines that were here long before my friend and her late husband bought this wondrous place. Returning to the porch after getting myself a cool drink, I notice a large dark shape perched on a branch not 40 feet away. I realize instantly that it’s an owl. I creep back inside to get binoculars, but in what little daylight is left, I am not able to see many details, only that it has small horns and that its feathers are dark brown and mottled with white.
The owl sits there for some time, turning its head this way and that, and I know it is fully aware of my presence. Yet there it remains, vigilant for whatever lurks in the tall grasses below it. As I move to another part of the house to get a better view, it takes off, glides close to the ground, soars up into the branches of another more distant tree, and vanishes from my sight. After closing the place up and leaving a few windows open to let the cooler air in, I spend a pleasant night, lulled to sleep by sounds that are possible only in such places, only in such woods as these.
This is, and has always been, a magical place, from my friends' first tentative days here in their tiny cabin nearly 30 years ago to the present time when my friend now lives alone in what was to have been their dream home, a magnificent place of cathedral ceilings and breathtaking views that her husband would enjoy for only a short time. The phoebes know nothing of this, however, and each year, they return to their same nests under the big back deck, their tail feathers bobbing as they perch on a planter pole or low branch. The crows that guard this place have done so for ages and will continue to do so, insensible of the human drama going on in the space beneath them.
A thunderstorm comes over this place early on another afternoon, and the rain comes down hard and insistent as I sit writing. Despite the humidity, which has once again reached unpleasant proportions, I take my book out with me to the screened-in porch to sit out the storm. Mediocre by summer storm standards, it is nonetheless pleasant to feel its effects as the air changes. The rain falls steadily and the earth gives up her rich scent as the drops penetrate her dried and brittle shell. I sit out there until it passes then go back inside. I must leave in awhile to get back to my real world for another day or so, then it will back here for another few days to let nature have her way with me.
Such places as these are destinations along the journeys of our lives, oases toward which we yearn and that we spend our days struggling to achieve. But might it not be the journey there from which we learn our most valuable lessons? Might it not be the unexpected sights along the way that make the journey worthwhile? For all destinations become resting places after awhile, and there is always the danger that we may become complacent and think that there is nothing else to see or experience.
After leaving one wood and being given the gift of enjoying another, albeit for a preciously short time, I know now that each step I've taken since then has led me here, storing up the wonder and enchantment for me along the way. This is another culmination of sorts along my journey, another fleeting moment in time during which all that matters to me has come together in yet another wooded spot in a place that feels very familiar and right.
Any place that engages us the way this place does me sings of beginnings and births, of fulfillment's and endings, of secrets and things left to be discovered and felt. One layer of emotion curls back to reveal another deeper one, for that is what the woods do for us. They make us look into ourselves to search for the common ground that we share with all that is out there. To love where we are, no matter how humble or remote or forgotten, makes it home, and that is what this wooded place is to me at this very moment-home.