robertisenberg

The Woods Are Lovely, Dark and Deep

In Uncategorized, Vermont on June 25, 2009 at 12:00 am

Christmas in Vermont 042

I was once asked, during an audition, to name my favorite place on Earth. I said, “The woods outside my parents’ house.”

Life in Vermont can be hard: It’s ludicrously expensive, the winters are long and bitter, and the summers are humid and buggy. My parents built their own house with a wood-burning stove; everything else runs on electricity, including the well and septic system. My first “job” was to dig rocks out of the garden for 50 cents a bucket, a job I undertook for about 45 minutes before giving up on work (and money). My second job was hauling wood in a wheelbarrow down from the forest. Manual labor is tough, tedious work. Also, I was lazy.

And like all rural people, Vermonters live without certain amenities: You can’t just call the police and expect a squad car within 20 minutes. Same goes for the fire department, although both services are remarkably efficient considering the great distances between buildings and towns. Wildlife is always wandering through — bats, nests of mice, skunks, snakes, raccoons, whatever. My favorite: A bird that crashed through our garage window and died next to my Dad’s table-saw.

But that’s all succotash. The rare beauty of my parents’ house is its quietude. Nobody bothers them. The woods that surround their house makes it feel as remote as a log cabin. The summer nights are pitch-black, because no street-lamps infringe upon the darkness; in winter, the unblemished blankets of snow sparkle like mounds of jewels. Dark autumn soil is carpeted with gold leaves, and by late fall the forest’s canopy glows fiery-red. Time crawls in the Vermont woodlands, and nature’s unfolding is a lifelong lesson in patience.

Add it all together, and I’ve probably spent months in the forest around my parents’ house — pacing, pondering, gibbering loudly to myself like a lunatic. All my best ideas were hatched in this woodland. With my Dad and brother, I’ve hiked, skied, snow-shoed, sledded, zip-lined, tree-climbed, and felled Christmas trees in these woods. I’ve seen herds of deer sprint through the glade. I’ve spotted owls and heard coyotes howling. For my entire childhood, a sylvan life seemed normal. Now, having seen the diverse ways people come of age, I still have trouble imagining youth without wild greenery. This is the livelier version of Plato’s Cave. And unlike those mythical Socratics, who ravenously journey the world, free from their cavernous prison, I’m also relieved to come back, and take a deep, full breath.

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