Searching for the Soul of the Forest

From Two Winters in a Tipi: My Search for the Soul of the Forest, by Mark Warren (Lyons Press)

TwoWintersTipiWhenever winter came, I waited for ice and snow to come to my forest. The magical day always stalked in under cover of night to ambush me the following morning with a frozen wellspring of joy. The world was transformed. The snow smoothed every sylvan scene as if by gentle, omnipotent hand. The pines above were rimmed in pale green crystal, bending down to my level as if beseeching me to come be a part of the masterpiece, arching to the perfect white mantle of the earth as though in prayer.

One of those days was my birthdays—when I was twelve- or thirteen-winters-old. My running feet left the first human tracks in the pristine white of my front yard like the contrail of a spacecraft launching into the mysteries of outer space. When I reached my favorite part of the forest, I moved quietly through the altered spaces where trunks had converged overhead like low-ceiled cathedrals, and I felt some personal responsibility for the changed landscape, as though God had approved of my needful eye and arranged this natural wonder just for me.

This was my first preparation for tipi-life, for I saw the forest architecture as my true home: beams of wood leaning above me, intersecting at a solid confluence of buttresses. Chandeliers of refracted light sparkled overhead, even brighter than the snow. Even with my feet wet and cold, I stayed out late that evening, pushing the limits of my freedom, needing deep in my soul to see how this exquisite scene would change with the advent of night.

The darkness came and with it the moon. Annealing and bone-white, the growing orb rose and lit up everything around me like a warehouse of crystal sculptures. The forest took the lunar light as its own and turned it back on the world. The trees shimmered. The snow glowed from within, burning with the cold invisible flame.

Simple observations like this had stoked the fire in my soul, and I wanted such moments to last forever. As darkness spread across the sky, my mother’s expectations that I show up for supper called me home. Still I lingered.

That was when the idea first hatched in my head—looking at these bending pines gilt in moonlight—that I would one day live simply beneath leaning trees. I never spoke about this. I didn’t yet know the language that could explain such a notion. I tucked away the prophecy, went home, and eyed the squared-off walls, door frames, and carpets of our home. Now I knew that such angular things were not necessarily the natural way of all people. There are choices.

Coming home from that sacred day among winter pines, I probably smelled of pine resin and wet wood. I’m sure I carried snow crusted on my socks and the flush of winter in my cheeks. In our kitchen, Mama turned from the stove and smiled at me. It was the kind of smile you give a dirty-nosed puppy that’s been digging relentlessly for a chipmunk.

Part of her probably wanted to know about my day, just a glimpse of it, so that she could assess my safety, I suppose. But another part gave me room.

Two Winters j

Reprinted with permission from Two Winters in a Tipi: My Search for the Soul of the Forest, by Mark Warren (c) Lyons Press.

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