Strangers Here

Spending part of every day in the woods, I can fool myself into believing that I know the woods. But of course, I only know the woods I know, and probably don’t even understand them very well.

Out on the coast, where we have escaped for a few days, the ecosystem is different. Low pine scrub in sandy soil. Kettle ponds at the foot of every trailhead. Pelagic birds mixing with tree clingers and perching species in the whorl of a salt marsh.

We are strangers here, and though we’re still quite close to home, there are surprises around most corners. White cedars cluster by the edge of fresh water. The dog sniffs everything for familiar ammonia, but trots on, confused that none of his smells are here.

The trails are like a language we thought we spoke, but discovered whole new swathes of vocabulary we’d never bothered to learn. It’s disorienting, but in the best possible way.

I feel a little sad that I won’t have time to learn this place like I know the places closer to home, because I know there are secrets I’ll never learn, where the owls roost in the morning, where the coyotes have made their den, the right place to sit and watch the sun rise through the scrub pine.

It doesn’t matter. We’ll take what we can get while we’re here. I’ll fight the subconscious urge to mentally map and measure everything. I’ll try to just see what’s in front of me to see.