wilderness is a feeling—that is a place

Jul 25 2013

guest post by Our Place ass’t teacher, Maegan Puzas!

A Fear of Hope or a Hope of Fear?

Have you ever taken a moment to think about the kinds of things that go through your mind before you set out on a hike? Have you ever paused and recollected on what the adventure will bring once you place one foot on the trail? In the face of uncertainty and utter curiosity, those that call ourselves adventurers take risks in the hope of finding true meaning out on the trail or in the wooded lands of our place, our home, our Earth. As natural explorers of our own forested biomes, we place such hope of learning on our land and recollect with such learning in our hearts. However, with every bought of hope, there can also exist fear. There can live a fear of direction, a fear of learning, a fear of where we will end up on the landscape or even a fear of where we will end up in our hearts. Hope and fear exist in the soul of any kind of explorer in search of knowledge, especially out on the trails.  As an explorer myself, I’ve personally given thought to such recollections and maybe now you will think twice about them too.

When our little band of explorers set out on the trails of Indian Hollow in Chesterfield this past week, adventure and intrigue burned deep in our hearts. There were many questions as to where we were going, what we were going to face, if there was going to be a swimming hole to cool off in or even if we would see a bear. Some questions could be easily answered but others remained a mystery for the campers. Some of them had never even heard of Indian Hollow, let alone been there. As a secluded, wooded retreat in the Nonotuck biome with virtually minimal civilization for ten miles, Indian Hollow was truly the place to head to, in hopes of a new adventure.

As we began our trailblazing trek through the woods, we explored some of the brooks and streams and even paused to view the sprouting, shinning leaves on the surface of the forest floor. I took in this sight with a feeling of beauty, as dew drops remained glistening on the top of these wintergreen leaves, as our explorers were intrigued to find this little treat in the middle of the woods. We traversed through the dense canopy of oaks and hemlocks, even pausing to observe past beaver markings on branches or dead trees that had recently fallen and become habitats for microorganisms and fungi. There was such beauty in those secluded woods and such observation and learning stemming from this adventure.

As the day wore on, we found ourselves splitting into two groups of sharpshins (generally the older kids itching for even more adventure) and wings (the younger explorers who would like to take it easy for awhile and learn through more observations). Obviously, the lines of these “groups” could be easily crossed, depending on how we all felt for the day. Regardless, our destination became the Bear Pool, once it became warm enough for everyone to consider taking a bit of a swim. I was helping lead a group of wings and we took the experience slower than the rest, taking our time traversing the landscape. Even though it was the end of the week and we were all tired from our previous explorations, a kind of hope set in at eventually reaching our destination. The kids were excited, I was intrigued, and so our trekking to the Bear Pool began.

Because we all move at different paces while exploring, it can be easy to become separated or lost. At one point in the trek, I was alongside two little boys as we became slightly separated from the rest of the group. I was one of those people who had never actually been to the Bear Pool before, so I did not completely know the way. All I had was a bit of a trail to go on and a recollection of having to cross a brook in the process. Unsteadiness took up residence in my heart and a bit of fear clung to my bones. What if I could not find the way? What if we really did get lost? What if we ran into a situation of being face to face with a bear on the way to this swimming hole? Mind racing, I still managed to keep a calm countenance and patience that my senses would lead me in the right direction. Fear and hope existed in a neutral balance in my heart, for I felt both.

As our feet sloshed and partially got stuck in mud, I realized that a flood had passed through the area we were exploring. This area was once flooded by the river, but had recently gone downstream to further outlets. I smiled, gazing at the water-washed landscape below our feet and realized that even though floods can be extreme, they can also bring about new life, new balance, new realizations, new learning, and new discovery. I picked up some of this mud and tentatively squished it in my right hand, feeling the Earth seep through my fingers. One of the six year old boys watched me and started to laugh, as I smiled again and started joking to him, asking if he’d like to take a mud bath here before we continued on our journey. I smiled because I came to the realization that a flood has the power to restore life but also the power to wash many things away, including fear. I felt like I instantly knew the way to go, and this experience of observing the Earth renewing itself set aflame a compass in my heart to point me in the right direction. Even the growl I heard out of nowhere (in which I instantly perceived to be a bear) did not stir my heart. It was only later in the walk that I discovered it was one of the little adventures beside me, attempting a defensive growl in case we ran into a bear.

It was with much hope that we reached the Bear Pool. We had found our destination and Indian Hollow seemed to take us into its arms that day, comforting us while showing us new life and new adventure. As the kids immediately took off into the pool, I remained in a recollecting mood. Hope and fear are such important qualities in the context of thought. What goes to show that either exists? Does one triumph over the other? There are many things in life that exist in a balanced state, fostering the revolution and evolution of the world. As good and evil exist as one balance, does hope and fear exist as another? We as human beings sometimes use hope and fear interchangeably, we hope for what we fear or fear what we truly hope for. We need hope and fear in life to build off one another and keep our souls in balance, with reverence to the Earth. I believe hope is an essential quality in life, while fear can leave us guessing, fostering the mystery in our lives. What is the truth? Who am I to really judge?

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