I walk into the woods for the first time in what feels like months. Winter is filled with snowy walks, but soft snow in late spring keeps my post-holing legs out for a while, and then comes seeding time and summer and all the work that the garden demands, and so the woods form the periphery of my days; they frame this land we live on, but it’s only now that I finally leave the open picture and venture back into the shaded and layered forest.
Before I even cross the wood line, though, I stop. Milkweed is flowering in the neighbor’s field. In the garden I pull it, the long straight root sliding out with a quiet, satisfying pop, but here I look. A few years ago, while taking the Wisdom of the Herbs class, I learned to harvest milkweed flowers, saute them with some olive oil and tahini, and eat them in a wild edible stir-fry. During harvest we took out our hand lenses and looked into the flowers, pausing to take in the shape of each petal, the insects that crawled across the flowering globe, the details that only reveal themselves when you stop to see.
It occurs to me now that life is a continual practice of seeing. It is not so much that the world is asking me to open my eyes, but that my own soul is sending the request: stop, look. It’s this pause that grounds me. In her book The Backyard Parables, Margaret Roach writes:
I am fairly certain that to make a 365-day garden you must also learn all over again how to see–to see beyond the big blue Hydrangea and other obvious show-offs, right down to the shapes of buds and textural complexity of bark, and the way the play of light and shadow, sounds and smells, and even movement contribute to the living pictures…You must learn to see with your heart; the eyes won’t do in the hardest months. You must look viscerally, not somatically; it will take you in the direction of the light.
And so it goes for the wild places beyond the garden, too–I must learn to see beyond the lilies and black-eyed susans, and look also at the milkweed, this plant I regard as a weed in the garden, but that blooms here now with quiet beauty. We all belong here, this much I know. Despite my attempts to clear milkweed and plantain and knotweed and grass from one rectangle of earth so I may grow spinach and lettuce and carrots and beets instead, we all belong here. To learn to see in this way is to bring ourselves back into the realm of belonging, too.
After pausing at the milkweed, I keep walking. My camera stays slung over my shoulder, switched off, as I follow the sounds of the dogs as they jump and race through the trees. They have lessons to teach me, too, but also remind me this: the woods are meant for exploring, open your eyes, leap in.