Baskets piled high with acorns and chestnuts lined the rough-hewn table, ready for decorating our cottage that October day. Frequently, I left the house during the Golden Hour, trading the fireside comfort for a promise of autumn's bounty, which took me past dense thickets and into a grove of oak and chestnut. I walked slowly, hushed and reverent, registering a feeling most profound: I felt tethered to this landscape. More than any place I have lived - Mississippi, Wyoming, Montana-- this became my spiritual landscape, somewhere I'm free and belong. For far too long, I felt adrift.
I haven't always lived rurally; instead, I've lived on the edge of large geographical landmasses and an ocean basin. But seeing the woods from afar wasn't enough, even as a young girl. "You can't run away from life," said my ninth-grade teacher after I shared how desperately I desired to move near my Granddad's farm where I was born, away from large houses and shopping malls. In my young opinion, my idea of life was vast tracts of land, as far as my eyes could see, devoid of human noises. My idea of life was galloping on horseback full speed. My idea of life was standing full of wonder under a swarm of starlings swooping in the sky. Those were the things that I believed (and still believe) anchored a person. But none of that made sense to her, nor my parents.
As I've grown older, the world's become more chaotic, and I must constantly discern what is good and not suitable for my mental health. Tech company's vines are quickly creeping into every aspect of our lives, distracting us with addictive apps and social media that pretend to validate us. Such chaos has arisen so quickly and quietly that no one seems to have noticed!
But impermanence in the countryside is captivating and natural. Snow lulls us in winter, and wind enlivens us in autumn. Late September, fields of sunflowers gracefully bow their heads to the sun the way I do at mass, reminding me of the ancient virtue of reverence. A hawk looks down from a branch as I move along a path at the edge of a clearing. The colors change drastically. Red brambles creep along the river. Farther inside the forest are enormous elms with branches reaching out like ancient arms. I remember the time I lost myself for several hours on a scorching summer afternoon. It wasn't until I calmed my nerves and used my instincts that I found my way out. It seemed like the forest was watching me. I shed a past self that day, becoming a little braver. Looking back, I've speculated that the woodland guided me safely home.
Today, living rurally and closely in tune with the season means exploring a part of myself I was once too busy to do. It doesn't mean shutting myself away from the world, hiding. Instead, I've torn down walls I'd built to protect myself. The natural world: its brambles, orchards, and fields accept me more than humans. It seeps into and influences every part of my life. And its harmonious pace allows me to live a gentler, wilder life than in any cultural city.