The first time I remember consciously running off into the woods in a desperate attempt to self soothe was in the summer of 2018, among the giants of northern California.
That summer, though undoubtedly magical and eye-opening, also marked the first extended period of time in which the heaviness of feeling unknown, untethered and downright lonely began to weigh on me.
You see, as a brand new camp photographer, I still remember trying to adjust to this new sort of working world.
I’d run around with campers all day, my every moment from sunrise til’ starlight spent trying to capture their most heartfelt moments. I was deeply preoccupied with capturing as many of these moments as I could, with doing not just a good job, but a great job. I was preoccupied with proving myself.
A try hard.
And perhaps, more than anything, I was a young woman just trying to control the one thing I felt I could steer out there in the unknown – my effort.
It didn’t help that I found myself surrounded by a group of people who, to me, seemed just a few notches above where I found myself to be.
I, too, wanted to be an adventurer. I wanted to hike mountains and thrive in the woods. I wanted to feel as comfortable as they all seemed to be: with each other, with their niche, with the wild, with themselves.
In them, I found myself confronted with everything I wanted to be, but suspected deep down I was not: Not wild enough, not weird enough, simply, not enough.
Usually more self assured, I found myself struggling to grab onto any sense of belonging and that strain drove me to anxiety filled nights in my tent watching Bo Burnham on my cell phone.
When Bo got old, I turned to the woods.
I remember wandering out there, just beyond the official campgrounds, wanting nothing more than to be alone with my dreams and the trees.
And alone I got.
Until, of course, it seemed like the whole forest came alive and suddenly I was surrounded on all sides by these communities of trees.
To my left and my right there were little tree families, omnipotent conifers and their baby pines that would one day grow to tower above me, too.
And, I saw myself in those young trees– small, still growing, and ever so capable of greatness, if only given a bit of patience and persistence.
It calmed me to stand dwarfed among the perfectly imperfect, peering above the roots still finding their way, nestling into the hum of trees simply being trees.
And just like that, I found belonging in the forest.
I remember feeling like even in this strange place where people didn’t know what I liked to eat, or that I’m often silly by default, with the trees I was known so deeply that I didn’t need to assert myself so much. I could simply be.
I’ve been turning to the trees for comfort and wellness for some time now — as a way to shrug off the performative nature of existence for a while and join the trees in just being.
Perhaps it isn’t such a new habit either. As a kid, I’d roam wild in the backyard woods with the young women whom I continue to call my sisters regardless of blood. We’d spend an eternity out there, stripped of performance and suddenly allowed to sink into being, pretending, believing, not just in the magic of the world, but perhaps, in the magic within ourselves.
To this day trips into the woods often leave me feeling a bit more in touch with who I am outside of my deeply human desire to be accepted.
Namely, a creature who is happier surrounded by green.
But, also, a being who’s expectations and perfectionism need not limit them in their pursuit of the simple joys of a particularly cute mushroom, a friendly duck or a very shiny bug.
For anyone searching for belonging in their own hearts and/or in the world around them (and after all, aren’t we all searching at one point or another?) I recommend the woods.
I recommend the wild.
I recommend a space where, free of human perception, one can slowly unfurl the layers of anxiety and expectation to reveal something so fundamental the trees will know you, too. Something that is growing and full of potential and with patience and persistence has no other choice but to become something really, truly, great.
And remember, you don’t need much to get out into the wild.
And, you don’t need to know everything.
Just get outside, take a deep breath in and a deep breath out. Look up. Look in. Explore, Dream, Discover. And wait, perhaps, until you hear the hum of the trees being and you realize that ‘hey!’, you know that song, too.