The Orphaned Woods, The Answer To My Longing


“It was getting on, so I got up, sorry to leave the bark warm against my back. But I was breathless with elation, high on my thoughts, and I felt the kinship with the Mother Trees, grateful for accepting me and giving me these insights. I walked to the top of the knoll, remembering a small route to the main haul road, and I followed a deer trail heading roughly in the right direction.” Susan Simard Finding The Mother Tree

I read the words with longing. I wanted to be in those deep old woods leaning my back against a thousand-year-old tree.

I wanted to know what a fresh grizzly bear footprint looked like compared to one three days old.  I wanted to brave the mosquitos and live more of my life outdoors than in. I wanted to cook and eat, sleep and shit in the woods.  I wanted to do it all in the same way, with the same respect and collaboration with the land, that the indigenous people in the Pacific Northwest have done.  The ones who have been stripping bark from trees for hundreds of years to make baskets without harming them.

It’s easy to fall into the romance when reading a book like Suzanne Simard’s Finding the Mother Tree.  So maybe I didn’t need to do all of that, but I did find my chest swelling and tears of regret leaking from the corners of my eyes.

I love my life as it is now, but at fifty-seven I can be honest with myself that there are some things I will never do.

And one of them is hiking the parks and preserves in the western part of the country.  It’s one of those things that I always wanted but never made time for in my life. For most of my life, I just went along without plans seeing what would happen next.  It wasn’t until I started seriously making art and started my blog in 2008 that I knew what I wanted to do and put all of myself into it.

But I couldn’t help thinking that if I had this kind of will when I was younger, maybe I would have chosen a life of some kind that led me to the woods. Or maybe at least I would have made the effort to spend more time exploring the natural world.

I never allowed myself to have regrets before.  I think I didn’t want to have to feel the disappointment that comes with regret. But I wasn’t being honest with myself.

When I allowed myself to cry those tears I was able to let go of something unfulfilled inside of me.  Because in the next moment I thought of the woods behind the farm.

The woods I now think of as The Orphaned Woods and how lucky I am to have them.

At any time I can leave my house or studio, walk through the pasture gate and follow the path into the woods.  Not an old-growth woods, surrounded by thousands of acres of untouched land, but woods that, honestly, suit me very well.

They’re small enough for me not to get lost in but big enough for me to lose myself in.

My regrets, though real, are small compared to the life I have chosen and now live.  I understand that if I really wanted to live a life different from mine, one where I spent more time outdoors than indoors, I could.

My choices are my own and I take responsibility for them.

For now, I am grateful that when I walk in The Orphaned Woods, even though I’m not in an old-growth forest, I can still look for the mother tree, nurturing her offspring and helping to keep the forest around her healthy.  I can find the mushrooms that are the flowers of the vast network of fungus under the ground that connects everything that grows there.

And I feel that connection too.

I always have. Even when I was a kid growing up in the suburbs of Long Island, I was always drawn to the trees.  The small maple I used to climb at the end of the block where I lived and the big old trees, that survived the development of the area in the years after WWII.

Now, the more I learn about the natural world, not only from books but from living on the farm and walking in the woods, the closer I feel to it. The more connected I am.

And I think maybe that’s what I’ve really been longing for all along.

Fate exploring the ground beneath a Mother Tree in The Orphaned Woods.  A Mother Tree has smaller trees growing around her which she sends nourishment to through her roots and the fungal network underground. .  The seedlings often sprout in decaying logs or “nurse logs” which “protect them from predators, pathogens and drought“. Simard found that even when a tree is dying (which takes many years) they still send nutrients to the smaller trees around them. Many Native Americans knew about Mother Tree’s long before Simard and other scientists “proved” they existed and that they kept a forest healthy.  It seems our Amish neighbors know about Mother Tree’s too as Jon found out yesterday when talking to Moise.

8 thoughts on “The Orphaned Woods, The Answer To My Longing

  1. i have a favorite book i think you might like it’s called braiding sweetgrass by robin wall kimmerer i love this post of yours rosie

    1. Ah It’s one of my favorites too Rosie.:) I was thinking of it when I read again about the Native Americans using bark from the trees, without harming them to make baskets.

  2. Maria this is just beautiful. I’ll be 57 in November and I have been feeling pangs of regret as I assess the life I’ve lived here in Hawaii so far away from my Pennsylvania and Maryland roots, although I love this place. Truly. You are insightful to acknowledge that regret when acknowledged leads to grief, about time. I too have been riding the train of “let’s see what happens next” for most of my adult life. Perhaps it has been about leaving my choices open. But at some point in the last few year I realized that I had unwittingly traded away some things in the process of making the choices I did. There are things that I indeed will likely never experience. Knowing that is living life on live terms, as they say. There is prevailing myth that the strongest among us have no regrets, but I think this can work against our continued growth as we age. The process of feeling that grief as we acknowledge regret of opportunities lost can bring a renewed appreciation for what is at hand. That seems to be what you are writing about too. That has also been my experience in recent months. It’s about growing up and growing wise rather than just getting old. So why resist coming to understand more deeply that you haven’t known exactly what you were doing all along, though perhaps you were doing your best. And grieving that. As you note, it can also remind you of what is actually still possible. Maybe we are getting clearer about what we value as we sense our limits so that we can live more purposefully. Thank you so much for being so candid.

    1. Maybe this is something that happens at our age Donna. It’s good to hear that you’ve had a similar experience and to hear your ideas about it. I think it’s so true that what you wrote about being able to appreciate what we have when we can be honest about what we may have lost. Thank your for your writing.

  3. What a beautiful post, Maria. I could relate. I appreciate how you honored the regrets, but also honored what you do have in a different way. It’s interesting noting you are 57. I’ll be 58 next month. I’ve been having similar introspective moments such as this too. In astrology terms, we are in the second Saturn Return at this age. I feel it more this year than last- meaning that I’m having more reflective moments such as yours. I just wrote about this on my blog today also because on my morning walk I was gifted with symbolism from nature that I turned into a talisman to honor the “autumn of my life.” It’s comforting to know we don’t walk alone in our thoughts and process.

    1. It really is comforting to hear from other people who are experiencing something similar Barb. Thanks for sharing and I’ll check out your blog post.

  4. Hi Maria,
    Great piece you’ve written.
    I am so fortunate to have been able to visit many of the national parks due to
    traveling between duty stations living in a military family as a child. My dad always took vacation time
    at those points and we would explore whatever part of the country was between here and there.
    Looking back, I really now know how fortunate I was to have that experience.

    If there is any way the farm can be taken care of for some period of in your absence, I would heartily suggest
    you give park visits a try. Its one of the great majesties we have in this country.

    1. What a wonderful way to make the most of moving so much Keith. Very thoughtful of your father. I did spend some time out West about 20 years ago, but never explored the way I dreamed of. I may get there yet.

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