Some gifts come easily, but the ones we tend to value most are birthed with trial and struggle.
When I get anxious, walking in nature helps to calm me and to center my thoughts on God. We live in the city, but behind our house is a large swath of woods, a swath that had once been someone’s personal dump and is full of trash and glass. I attempted to pick up some of the glass, but the rain would cause more to become exposed so that there was always a minefield.
After about one hundred feet, the minefield abated and opened into a beautiful forested area with wild grape vines, larger than my upper arm, reaching high up into the trees. It was so restful. I wanted to share it with my children, but there was no safe way to get them to it… so I built a path.
There was a pile of cinderblock detritus and rocks that construction workers had dumped just where the woods began, and that is where I began. I took a mini sledge hammer andbroke the cinder blocks into workable pieces, one by one. Small children only permitted me bits of working time, but I enjoyed the physical labor and being surrounded by trees.
Some pieces fit together easily. Other pieces were so odd that I thought they would never fit anywhere, but somewhere further down there would be a spot, strange and distinct, and I would think, “This is it! That piece was made for this spot!”
As I worked, I cleared away the invasive Chinese privet trees that had sprung up so easily over thin layer of soil and trash to make room for natives- strangled hackberries and maples. I found pieces of styrofoam, at least forty years old, that hadn’t decayed a bit. I filled buckets and buckets with glass to recycle but never seemed to make a dent in the amount left.
After nine months of work, I had made a path one hundred and one feet long, installed some big stones as stairs, and made a retaining wall of rocks (which I found in that original pile of cinderblock) in a spot that seemed to erode up trash with every rain.
Finally, my children could safely come and play. Their faces were full of wonder as they reached the clearing. Hours later, I had to pull them inside from the place they named The Enchanted Forest.
Three years later, the place is still enchanted for them, and it is still a retreat for me. In the morning, fog hangs amid the trunks, and the wood thrush flutes its beautiful song. In the day, the speckled wood floor is cooler than our shadeless yard and a great place to play. In the evening, barred owls call to each other, and lightening bugs hang in the trees like Christmas lights. In the Spring, green shoots up every where, and in the Fall, leaves and pine needles make the air smell rich and crisp. I think winter may be my favorite of all though. In Tennessee, we don’t get too many snowfalls, but the effect is breathtaking. Boughs are weighed down, forming arches and doorways to the snowed quiet clearing.
The transformation from trash heap to refuge did not come quickly or easily. It came with sore muscles, several smashed fingers and toes, and constant mosquito bites. It came with frustration when things didn’t go like I wanted but pleasant surprises both in my own abilities and in the work itself. It turned into art to me and remains one of the most difficult and cherished things that I have accomplished. It is a gift.