I’m making a point to run at one of my favorite places in Duke Forest now, they close the forest at the end of September through mid December to “manage the deer”. This boggles my mind because wait you are closing the forest at the most beautiful time of year? but yes, yes they are, every year. Every year I mentally smack myself and shake my head in disbelief- like when you’re trying to figure out who is moving when it feels like you must be stopped at the stoplight. Either you or the car next to you is rolling and you mash your foot on the brake harder, you aren’t moving, they are, and things suddenly make sense again.
About a month ago, I set out for a ten mile run, route planned in my mind, and when I came to the little gravel side of the road Duke Forest parking lot I use there were tall orange cones and signs saying CLOSED. I muttered to myself the whole way over to another trail I like, why couldn’t they close the trail in six weeks when they shut the whole forest down anyway? Gah.
Is there a way to understand what it’s like for someone else when they are all day long disillusioned by something simple?
When the popsicle melts too much, wetly drops to the ground, and the disappointment is so physically real you almost cry even though you’re a grown up? That popsicle plopping reminds you of a hundred things that crumpled you since you were eight years old and ugh. It’s so much.
I figured out that only part of the trail was closed, and I’ve been using another parking spot to access the trail, running in u-turns where I usually make loops. After a month they reopened the closed part of forest. I saw a dried brown grassy patch instead of the white forestry truck, and the rope across the trail with the closed for timber management signs was gone. “Oh!” I exclaimed, and said out loud, “The trail is open again! La la!!“
The closed portion included a part of this trail that has witnessed many many tears and revelations from me.
It’s a little offshoot, a short single track out and back. It’s shaded, a lush green tunnel in the summer, the beech trees make it brown and golden in the winter. I round the curve off the main trail and it looks like I’m heading into a secret. The trees embrace me as I enter. It feels like home. I’ve sobbed my heart in sorrow and triumph to these welcoming woods many times. “It hurts it hurts it hurts, and thank you thank you thank you.“
Now they’re gone.
As I ran up the trail towards my favorite part of the woods there was a shocking big open space where the curve into the woods used to be. The entire forest, gone. Timber managed. Where there were trees in the sky there is empty air. My welcoming woods bulldozed into naked clumsy ground. It’s like how I felt when I heard Robin Williams committed suicide– just not possible. Except the open sky was proof: possible.
This has happened to me before- the human hand destruction of my beloved nature. I spent five years creating an altar in the woods where I ran near my old house. On every run I would place a stick, a stone, a leaf, or a feather, or something else interesting I found on my run that day.
At first the sticks were little, but then as the years went on and I got more confident the sticks did too until I had a taller than me teepee of sticks leaning into a tree, me laughing as I dragged tall hefty logs to my altar because that’s how big I felt that day. Or leaving behind the most beautiful feathers because even if someone took it from the altar, it had been there with me, and I would know it had been. Hundreds of runs, hundreds of prayers and offerings.
One day I headed into the woods and my altar was demolished.
Torn apart, strewn all over the forest floor. And there was new teepee that someone built about 10 feet from where mine was, using some of my logs. Every run, five years; hundreds of trips and prayers thoughtlessly torn apart and reused, placed so close it felt like an insult.
Both times I folded in disbelief, and immediately sobbed heartbrokenly. Whywhywhywhywhy repeating over and over in my mouth, my whole body shaking with the pain of disbelief while I cried. Sorrow holding me, irreplaceable loss echoing in my ears. I can never get it back, that altar, those woods. The soft curve of the woods that held me as I headed in is gone- forever. The complex and prayerful altar I built over years with my own hands is gone- forever.
In both instances amid my tears I abruptly in my belly knew: it was time. The tear down happened because that’s what happens. It was time for the altar to renew. Now it’s time for the forest to do that too. The loss of these spaces has given me a deeply tangible lesson of how powerful it is to love something, create something, rely on something, and yet somehow when it vanishes take another step. It helped me learn that sometimes it’s just time for things to go, that all the prayers I gave my altar were ready to take a new shape. That the missing woods will ache but the things I left there were ready to go.
The tear down is the thing.
It’s the thing, the destruction that creates. The this turns to ash so this turns to fire. It’s like walking out to the end of the high dive and deciding whether to jump. You either end your relationship with solid ground, to fly, to become the person who jumped-or you turn back, to climb down, to become something else.