Guest blog by Sarajane Case
Dogwood Alliance asked me what the forests mean to me. I could have said clean air (because that’s true). I could have said the beautiful views (also true) or that I use the forests for recreational purposes.
the answer that rang deeply in my being sounded more like solace.
To be transparent, I went through a phase where I told myself that I wasn’t that into the outdoors. Now I know the truth is that I wasn’t into stillness. The quiet that comes with being in nature is part of its magic. But, when you’re running away from something or you’re not quite ready to see the truth, the magic feels a little bit more like a mirror that shows you the ugliest or most scared parts of yourself.
Though I told myself I wasn’t that into nature, the truth was that I just didn’t like the voices that were in my own mind. I didn’t like the truth that the trees whispered to me. I was anxious and running. I wasn’t ready to face the truths of my childhood, the fears of failure. I wasn’t ready to admit that I was in a relationship that was overbearing or that I’d spent the majority of my life just trying to make everyone happy with me no matter the cost to myself.
Last year, I tried my hand at exploring again. I drove up on the Blue Ridge Parkway. I didn’t have a plan, but I had a purpose. I was hoping to find a little bit of myself up there, to bring a little piece of myself alive.
I found myself exploring like a child.
Jumping off of rocks, paying attention to the tiniest details and moving caterpillars out of my way as I walked. I stood on the top of the mountain, and I let the wind caress my face as I beamed sunshine back into the sky and I smiled a smile that started at the soles of my feet and worked it’s way up through my core and bellowed out through my face.
It was there that I remembered what the woods used to mean to me.
As a kid, I was lucky enough to always have a home near nature; no matter where we lived, there was a little space that I could go to be alone. In some homes, it was a dock on the lake. Others it was a little piece of the woods or a trailer on the bank of a river.
I grew up in a home where things never felt easy, where you knew a lot very young and where rest didn’t seem normal. I’d run away from home to find my solace and I’d listen for my stepfather’s screaming from the place that I knew he could never find me. The woods became the place where I could be a child. I could run and play. I could feel the earth in my hands as I formed pottery from the red clay mud on the creek bank.
I could dance beneath the trees and stare at the sky in hopes of catching the attention of something larger than myself.
Traditionally, I’ve prided myself on being the kind of person who counts her blessings. I’ve looked for opportunities to celebrate the waves of life in every season. Looking for the bright spots in my hardest times and evaluating the construction of my sorrow. The way many of my strongest characteristics were seemingly birthed out of learning to manage chaos. For a lot of my adult years, I disregarded my childhood as difficult. I didn’t dissect it. I didn’t feel like I needed to. I just wrote it off as trying and I moved on.
As I’ve grown, I’ve become wiser, more patient, more understanding of myself. I know what it really means to run from my thoughts. I know that solace doesn’t follow you as you flee.
Rather, the solace lies within you in the silence, in the moments where the birds sing songs to you of comfort.
It’s putting yourself in the position to see your truth and facing it with courage. It’s in the stillness that comes with feeling the earth beneath your feet, the wind caressing your face and allowing the trees to whisper a little bit of truth back to you. For me, solace is found in red clay mud and groves of trees. It’s found on the banks of a river and peace with only the sound of my thoughts and the rustling of leaves.