I went walking in the woods today. All through the spring, summer, and fall, I walked those trails until they were so familiar that I could walk them in the dark – and did, on a couple of occasions. This was the first time I had seen these woods in winter. The landscape was changed by the absence of vegetation – the forest, once so close and thick, was laid bare by the cold. Thickets rendered impenetrable by summer growth were open and passable. I wandered between naked trunks and enjoyed passing through places I’d never explored before. But after a while, I got a sense of pushing through places where I didn’t belong. The quiet was thick and there were no other human footprints in the snow that remained between the trunks where I was walking. The braided streams that crossed through the woods sparkled in the sunlight and the air was cold and clear. Where vining undergrowth remained, I could hear small scrabblings in the brush as tiny birds searched for seeds. From the river came the sound of Canadian geese – as cold as it is here now, for them, this is a haven. Refuge.
Over a year ago on a night of cold and heavy snow, I found myself seeking refuge. The love I had believed was a safe-haven had become a prison-camp; emotional and occasionally physical torture had become the routine of my days. There came a night when I reached the limit of my ability to absorb his punishment. I remember leaving his house without even a coat, shivering in my car as I let the engine run because the ice and snow was so thick on the windshield that I could not see to drive. I watched the door of his house through the car window; he stood in the doorway, watching me. If he had believed that I would actually go, he never would have let me leave – I know that. But he believed that I was earthbound, tied to him so tightly that it didn’t matter what he did to me, I would always remain. He did not know the power of brokenness; when a person has nothing to lose, there is no risk in even the most difficult actions. Like a wild bird in flight, I broke all bonds and sought a better climate. It was a hard flight, and I almost didn’t make it. But I finally found a place to land; a refuge of my own making. Like the geese, I found a harbor, and even if it was cold and not what I was used to, it was better than the place I left behind.
Today, I stood among the naked trunks, listening to the voices of the woods. Like me, the forest itself is in retreat, on the run from those who seek to overmaster or destroy it. The winter-wood has no defense – its inner ways and paths are laid bare by the season. There is a vulnerability there that I recognize in myself. The woods in winter are as defenseless and ultimately as penetrable as an open, unguarded heart. Perhaps its only protection is the stark emptiness of the landscape; a cold and bleak terrain that is uninviting and somehow immune to trespass. I look at myself and I recognize the struggle that I have with myself – I have done so much damage to my body in order to be unattractive and protected that I wonder if I will ever be able repair it. I am trying – making healthier choices regarding food and exercise, but when the old fear rises my first line of defense seems to be weight gain. My goal is to replace this detrimental method of coping and protection with something more healthful, which will actually improve my life and my safety. No more running – from this point on, I stand my ground.