photo credit: Karen Miller-Rauch

The shriveled vines have left their mark, making the smooth skin of this felled log a canvas. What do I see? A dancer in a wood, beneath naked branches and a foreign moon. What do you see?

Today I had use of our family vehicle and took the children to a place about 30 minutes away where they could ramble in the woods for the afternoon. They brought supplies: A length of rope, their knife set, and two sturdy sticks they had picked up in front of our home while waiting for me to get myself and their little sister out the door.

Nothing about this outing could have been more perfect. Well, okay, because I have a compunction for clarification, I’ll grant the five minutes between getting into the van and starting to drive were rather imperfect. I recall some name-calling, a little seat-kicking, and a child sent to stand on the sidewalk and wait while I finished buckling in the littlest one and finalizing directions on my phone. And…there were also some unkind words as we made our way through the neighborhood and into highway-bound traffic. But by the time we were merging onto the Schuylkill expressway, I’d handed the three year old a rice roll and fiddled with the radio enough to land us on a cathartic rock-and-roll driving song. All was calm and the sun on the river shone bright.

We found the mud kitchen and play area as we’d remembered it. The big kids worked hard gathering materials to make a rough lean-to. They used branches for the frame, vines for lashing, and fallen bark for roofing. They worked hard hauling water with various buckets, gathering making mud to help secure the foundation.

I could see them just over the creek bed, and occasionally visited them in their world. But mostly I sat on a log and fed my spirit on beauty and sunlight, tuned to the sounds of the little spring near my feet, and took photos of moss and sky. During much of this time my preschooler brought me about ten cups of tea, filled from that spring. We air-pretend sipped it together, and I delighted in her proper-lady antics.

I thought about delight. It could seem selfish to revel in my little patch of sunshine, given the utter bleakness in the world. I have noticed myself muttering awful things when I get stressed or overwhelmed, or when I hear/see/read/remember stories of deep pain and grave violence and injustice. There are times when beauty seems unfindable, and celebration and lively childlike play feel garish. But it is when I stop looking for beauty in the world that I give myself over to the dead-eyed cynicism that says, “Nothing matters. Nobody cares.”

Today, instead of thinking of our time in the woods just as something to give the kids a chance to play, I moved out of my snack-vending-holder-of-jackets mama mode, and became a little more alive. Today, I took joy in many beautiful things…snowdrops rising from beds of composting leaves, curls of moss and lichen, a sky bluer than I’d seen in awhile, one single, crisp oak leaf, twisting in the wind, my child’s laughter as she played with her shadow.

I had gone into the woods in search of beauty and delight, and found both. I also returned less the harried caregiver, and more the person I want to be…joyful, a woman who enjoys the company of her lively, spirited children.




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