Up a trail, into the woods and we leave the bustle of Birmingham for the Appalachian mountains. At once, the children are free and in their freedom, they pick up sticks, bang on trees turn over rocks and race each other along the trails.
There is something about being in nature that is both calming and exhilirating. The senses are more acute, the focus more intense. From the moment we enter the woods, they interact with the environment with all their senses. We think we hear water . . . the sound of a stream tumbling down a mountain. We follow the sound until it seems to be behind us instead of in front of us. It’s around us and above us and below us and we suddenly realize it is the wind and the trees and the echo of this spot.
So the children shout and listen to their shouts and stand still listening to the echoed sounds of the forest.
One moment, they are adventurers, transported back in time as they blaze the first trails through the wilderness, ever on the look out for danger. The next, they study scratches on a tree, willing them to be the claw marks of a black bear. A pile of stones distracts them.
A person has been through here. A person who left a small tower of stones.
Like standing stones in the mountain wilderness. Someone was here. Someone paused. Someone else interacted with this spot and left, leaving a mark for someone to find. A small bit of discovered art.
I have never really appreciated much that passes as modern art. To me, to be art a work must show skill and purpose. It must use the mind and stimulate the mind. So much art today focuses on process and breaking boundaries that I struggle to see any meaning at all.
But this little subgenre speaks to me. It says,
I was here. I wanted you to know. I sat in this beautiful place and thought my own thoughts and decided to leave my mark.
And unlike graffiti scratched into a cliff face, we delight in the discovery and in the moment that we, too, are in this beautiful place, thinking our own thoughts and leaving our own mark. What will that mark be?
For now, it is a stack of pine cones, arranged neatly in a circle around the tower of stones.
But deeper and more permanent is a place in each of our souls that remembers a walk into the woods and the pine cones we collected but did not take.
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