Getting Dirty in the Woods

This morning, I went on a walk. It’s been raining a lot in Val, so my attempt to walk around the lake (yep, there’s a lake) was thwarted by multiple impassable mud puddles. In one of my attempts to cross a more reasonable one, I looked at my shoes and had a series of thoughts.

Oh, my new shoes are already muddy.

I never see French girls with muddy shoes.

Why can’t I keep my shoes clean?

Between this morning and now, I haven’t solved the mystery of why French girls don’t have muddy shoes, or at least not the ones I see walking around the city. They have city shoes and woods shoes, maybe?

Sort of in conjunction with this, last weekend I saw the movie version of the book Wild.

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Lille was showing it in VO (Version Original, aka not dubbed in French), and a group of friends and I went as our Saturday afternoon activity. I left the theater feeling inexplicably gutted. It was one of my favorite books of the summer; I read it while on my uncle’s family’s ranch in Montana, and I couldn’t stop thinking about it even when I put it down. I think the movie had such a profound emotional impact on me because Cheryl, and the movie itself, are from my neck of the woods. Literally, I have hiked parts of the PCT on family camping trips and regularly visit Portland, her last stop and current home, to see some of my best friends. Reliving the story reminded me of family and nature and extreme emotional journeys and personal growth.

When we were on that trip in Montana, we went on a family hike that ended with pouring rain and pelting hail as we madly dashed to the cars, soaking wet and covered in mud.

When I looked at my shoes this morning, I thought: I miss getting dirty in the woods.

I’ve been feeling persistently homesick since I returned from winter break. Maybe it was the holidays, maybe it’s the January blues, maybe it’s because this is about the halfway point of my adventure, but I feel like I’m in the “confronting deeper issues” dip of the culture shock curve.

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I’ve never thought of myself as a nature girl, but everything is relative. Relative to the extreme outdoor enthusiasts of Whitman’s OP, where nature is a temple and/or second home, I maybe don’t qualify for the “Nature Girl” title. Relative to my students and a lot of the people I meet in Europe, I feel like a total tree-hugger. I love the smell of trees, and moss, and rotting things in old growth forests. I love how fresh the air is. I love seeing the occasional slug sliming across the trail. I love marveling at things that sprung out of the earth that are so beyond humans, that preceded and will outlive us. I love getting dirty, and sweaty, and sore, and wearing my REI boots and bright green LL Bean fleece and ratty blue jeans.

And, more abstractly, my self-concept has always included deep roots. I pull everything I do and think from a central, grounded, internal source which I take care to cultivate. I am Anne, the tree.

Sometimes I think coming here was me branching out, and other times I feel uprooted.**

Being planted — putting down roots — brings comfort, safety, certainty. I miss my earth, I miss my ground. I don’t feel entirely like I can plant myself here, or, for that matter, anywhere. I might be floating around for a while. It makes me afraid to make connections, afraid to really mentally plant myself because I know I’ll have to uproot once again. I try really hard to cling to my center, but sometimes it escapes me. Right now, it’s much easier to feel lost than it is to feel rooted. I’m more unsettled than grounded.

As a personal development nerd, I read a lot about growing up. I think it’s supposed to feel like this.

And I guess, whether I can feel my roots or not, they are inescapable. I must be nourished, watered, and cared for somehow…and growing up and out from somewhere.

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** Isn’t it interesting that so many emotional metaphors can come out of the image of a forest?? Language is cool.

Getting Dirty in the Woods

3 thoughts on “Getting Dirty in the Woods

  1. Beautiful and thought-provoking words as always, Anne. I, too, keep coming back to this idea of roots–the ones we’re born with, and the ones we put down and pull up at different moments in our lives.

    Since graduating from Whitman, I’ve felt more rootless than rooted. Sometimes it’s exhilarating and liberating and other times it’s lonely and scary. But I think you’re right that this is what growing up feels like.

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