Nothing ever happens like you imagine it will.
John Green wrote this, but he isn’t the first. This honest sentiment is one we’re told, we say and that we, to the very core of our beings, know. And yet, here we are imagining the hell out of our lives, every day, every hour; how that conversation might go, what will happen at that meeting tomorrow, what about trying that new recipe, how about the next 1 year, 3 years, 10 years of our lives?
Imagination is a brilliant tool, and occasionally, a double-edged sword. We have high hopes, low expectations, desires and fears that carve paths so quickly in our brains, creating a thousand different scenarios for each potential decision.
I have this itching in my bones to instill an appreciation and affinity for nature in my child, and she too has an itching… one of creating chaos and calamity every time I try to impress the wilderness on her. But why is this? How can sitting around a campfire basking in accomplishment after a couple hours of collecting firewood, or walking through the trees spotting creatures or signs of them, or sleeping under the stars… ever be something to complain about?
After a chilly restless night in the tent, my niece and my daughter are bickering as family does when they’re a tad displaced and in close-quarters. My niece, her voice laden with boredom, asks, “What time is it.” As I prod the fire, encouraging the coals to ignite the sticks I’ve just put on top, I respond, “Why?”. I blow the coals and she thinks for a moment before responding, “I don’t know, I just want to know what time it is.” The warm orange flame consumes the twigs and I ask a little differently, “what will knowing the time do for you, here, now?”. She shrugs her shoulders and I watch the flames, pondering her question of time and letting it spiral into answering questions of my own.
I grew up in the forest. I have always loved being in the woods, for as long as I can remember. Just me and acres of thick trees, rivers, animals and my imagination. Even now, I prefer the woods alone. But as a mother, this immense fondness for the wilderness is something I feel the need to instill in my daughter. Parents want their children to experience happiness in so many ways. We all want our children to have measurable success but above all the tangible accomplishments imaginable, I want my daughter to love the wild. I want it to sink into her veins and flow into and from her heart like blood itself; pumping that unrelenting, all-encompassing feeling of wonder in a way only the wild can do.
The company you keep has the power to influence your experience, if you let it. The woods are no exception to this. In fact, I become hyper aware of being human with just one other person present in the woods. My appreciation for the wild is brewed by silence; that inability to release what you take in with some trite sentence to the body beside you like, “this is nice“. In the wild, silence fills you and will continue to for as long as you let it in; the trees, their leaves, the sound of the earth crunching beneath your feet, the singing of distant birds, the feeling of sunlight on your skin or moss between your fingers; you become a part of something so magnificently inhuman that it quiets you. You know you -don’t- belong here with your human hands and your human heart, but you ache to and it feels nice on and in you; you have syncopated with the wild in a way that human relationships can’t quite consummate.
So my niece was asking the time and now I’m thinking about it. Looking out over the water while the kids bicker in the background. She’s tired and chilled and my daughter is cranky and needy and everything’s a fight this morning and all there is to do is sit around the fire trying to keep warm and the novelty of that wore away by yesterdays sunset. I feel agitated myself, I want to love the woods, so badly; I came here for peace and I want these freaking kids to just get it. Further still, to love the hell out of it. But, they are kids and they, with their cell phones and apps and screens and myriad distractions, cannot as easily connect with nothingness and I am painfully aware that my anticipation of a picturesque first spring family camp out was a tad unrealistic. Things like this, like loving something so wholeheartedly, often takes time.
Life is often centered around time, or moreso, the occupation of it. Children have school routines to consume a large chunk of their days, but otherwise, they have free time and things. They don’t have work or love lives or bills or anything too pressing yet, they have their things. And when you take away those things and plop ’em down in the sticks with…more sticks, a boredom creeps up and instead of embracing the diversity of things, we pine for the ones we don’t have; we are left to occupy an indefinite amount of time and we don’t quite know how to or with what things.
But the wilderness has things, too. Things that awaken our senses and playfully invite our imagination.
What is that scent? It’s reminiscent of… of rain in the spring.
What is that sound? A woodpecker deep in the forest tapping away at some dead tree, on the quest for food.
What kind of track is this, where was this creature going, where has it been?
Look how the gentle wind makes the surface of the water reflect it’s surroundings like art, like a painting.
One day I hope these will be some of the things my daughter values. But for now, a tantrum about her rubber boot being too cold is how she chooses to occupy her time in the woods.