Did you ever read the book Children of the Forest when you were young? We had it at our house, Elsa Beskow’s story of a family that lives amongst the animals. Their mushroom cap hats gave you a sense of their size. With the roots of an old pine tree for a home, the children and their parents truly live in nature, collecting food, talking to owls and exploring the world around them.
As I look back now, I am struck by the image of my sister and I sitting on either side of our mother, our bright blonde heads bowed over the book, reading about four blonde children that spent all day outside. Save a few details here and there, we could have been reading a book about ourselves.
Let me tell you about real children of the forest. We wake every day with a sense of purpose and adventure. The world is enchanting and we can’t wait to get out in it. Our bodies are healthy, our minds are strong, and we aren’t afraid of mud on our faces or pinesap on our hands.
When we are in the woods, worries start to fade. We no longer care that we are dressed in hand-me-downs or that our parents fought last night or that we can’t figure out how to solve that math problem. We don’t feel inadequate in any way. We feel strong and smart. We put our strength to use dragging fallen branches and we put our minds to use figuring out how to construct a fort. We identify trees by their bark and know each flower by name and sense rather than tell time as the sun arches the sky.
Our eyes and ears and nose are wide open and, with them, our imagination. Sometimes we just lie on our backs, the warm pine needles cradling a moment of rest. But more often we move, slipping between trees, scaling large rocks, or hastily rolling up pant legs to follow the trajectory of a nearby brook. We look down at our feet, startlingly white in the water. Our toes spread wide over wet moss, the perfect carpet, fit for kings and queens. Who could want more?
We know the specific sound of each bird and the way the woods smells after a fall rain. We greet the first green shoots that press through the forest floor each spring like old friends.
Wants fade. Noise fades. Clarity arrives. We feel purposeful. And the best secret of children of the forest? We never, ever feel alone. Life is buzzing around and within us and we know – because we feel – that we are part of it all.
If the right circumstances make it so, children of the forest become people of the forest. We don’t forget, we don’t retreat in offices and commutes and deadlines and our career. We still move between the trees daily, our bodies a little taller, maybe, but our delight no slimmer for the added years. Our greatest joys are colored with the calls of birds and the slant of light between branches. Our greatest investments are made in preserving our natural habitat and watching our babies become children of the forest themselves. May they know the secret as well. May they never, ever be conned into thinking they are alone.