When in my 30s, I had a recurring dream that my house had hidden rooms I was discovering. In waking life, I’d never been aware of these rooms, these surprise extra spaces where the children could play hide-and-seek, we could entertain or host more guests, or perhaps embark on a new project.
Upon arising, I became aware that these extra rooms were symbolic of new realms in my life.
In the days following Thanksgiving of this year, I discovered there really and truly was extra space in my life — a whole new woods out my back door, as it turns out. Well, it’s practically out my back door — just five minutes from my house, or about 20 minutes if you walk. As our region becomes increasingly developed, finding a large parcel of undisturbed land in your own backyard is really something.
I can’t tell you where these woods are, because it’s a secret, but suffice it to say the woods include a lake, smaller ponds, many many trees, wildlife, and a trail that you can walk along for a good hour.
Well, so far, I’ve only walked about an hour into the woods — but you could go even further. Truth is, I don’t know how far it goes.
In these woods, you could walk a dog off a leash, and that dog could chase after deer. You might not see that dog for a good 45 minutes, but if the dog is faithful — and he is — he will come back.
My sons used to play in this woods during their teen years. They would ride their bikes and come home muddy. One summer, Justin got Lyme disease from whatever he was doing in those woods.
My sons tell me that I’ve known about those woods all along, but I never wanted to go on that trail because it was lined with detritus. I can see that might possibly have been true — certainly I didn’t want to get Lyme disease. My sons tell me I’m a snob and I preferred the Institute Woods, where I fancied I’d meet up with some of the world’s greatest thinkers, rather than this rough and ready place.
But now I’m really liking the rough and ready woods.
On the Winter Solstice, the day started out gray and misty, and very dark. I couldn’t imagine a more dreary day, as far as the light was concerned, but of course this seemed so fitting on the shortest day in the year of the economic meltdown.
Then, some time after lunch, the light came out. It was like some kind of miracle. Not wanting to miss it, Everett and I grabbed our coats and headed down to our secret woods. I left my sunglasses at home, hoping it would help the sun to stay out. And it worked.
The sun was melting the ice that glistened like a layer of crystal over the tree branches, and it rained down sparkles of magic on us. The sun was low in the sky, but cast a golden glow on the earth.
As with all woodland trails, it has its good parts and its not so great ones. When you first set out, there are ruts that fill with water, so it gets very muddy. This is good, because it keeps the less intrepid out, and the best is yet to come. After walking around a little pond, the trail leads out to the edge of the woods that borders a farm. You have to be careful in hunting season, my sons warn me, because the farmer comes out with his gun to shoot the deer.
Once the trail wends back into the woods, it takes you on a wooden footbridge over a stream. A little further, and you enter a wonderland. Here, there is a little village of hand-built huts. I have studied these huts, and they represent the place where the need to build shelter meets found art. From my limited archaeological exploration, I cannot determine if they were built by kids, artists or homeless people (probably not homeless people, Everett tells me, because they don’t really provide shelter, just the look of shelter). Or, Everett says, they may even have been built by kids as target practice for paint ball — although they really don’t have very much paint on them. Could the paint have weathered off?
Or, perhaps the initial idea was that they’d be paint targets, but they were such interesting constructions the builders decided to keep them as is.
They are built at the edge of the aforementioned stream, and they are built around a kind of “village green” or plaza. They are made of found materials, such as corrugated aluminum, tree branches and rope. Upon initial observation, it’s hard to tell how long they’ve been there, but I’d venture to say at least four years or so.
A bit further up along the trail, an old rusted bicycle hangs from a tree. Unless you’re looking up, you’re likely not to notice it. The bicycle must be pretty old, because it’s made of a material that rusts, not plastic. Hanging from the tree, it’s very Marcel Duchamp.