Haunted Lands of My Past, Beckoning Forests of My Present

How do we truly return to the land? How do we break the back of our cultural addiction to machines and soulless systems?

Every time I’ve visited, as an adult, the sandy-soiled and salmonberry-blessed land of my childhood, in Coos Bay on the Southern Oregon Coast, I become overwhelmed with feelings that I even now can hardly articulate.

As a child I interacted with the landscape in such a directly tactile way, scratched, wet, cold, sun-kissed, wasp-stung, dirt underneath my fingernails. I had not much conception of the forest as a living being, my friends and I chopped wood and soil willy-nilly to build forts. And yet, through my memories, I know I saw the land as if through a golden medium, a strangely welcoming wildscape, stalked darkly by monsters, ghosts, and mysteries, at other times dizzy with sunlight and pine-pollen.

Nowadays the richness of my connection to the land has grown, but I notice a constant ache in the loss of that bodily-connection to the land from my childhood.

Somehow comforts of the modern age have muddled my senses, and I find myself amidst a constant urban battle between couch and copse, between warm box and wet greenscape.

More and more I become convinced of the vitality of other modes of Riddling-solving, beyond the conventional word based or “who-dunit”, but rather the wordless tactile riddles, such as how to climb that particular tree, and how many routes up it one can find. Or to find the source of a particular scent, or knowing when a wandering tickle under a pantleg belongs to the journey of a tick (perhaps they invented the “tickle”?), and when it simply belongs to a twitchy nerve.

Jon Young, the experienced animal tracker, mentor, and first student of Tom Brown, Jr., calls this kind of rediscovery of nature from a youthful perspective, “child’s passions”, and encourages anyone who seeks to reconnect to the land to first honor the repressed needs to reconnect in child-like play with the out-of-doors, in all its glorious discomforts and elations.

Written by Willem