The city mouse and the country mouse.
“In the woods we return to reason and faith.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
I am most definitely, as they say, a city mouse. I love the bustle and life that can be found in a city. There are so many opportunities and events, great local restaurants and coffee shops. And city lights at night? Well, they just take my breath away, no matter how many times I’ve seen them before. Even the cold winter is more bearable when you’re walking among the tall buildings, surrounded by strangers. There’s something magical about it to me. And yet, there’s a little part of me that stays silent when I’m in the city. This little part of me doesn’t come alive until I’m hours away, surrounded by trees, lakes and (ideally) mountains. There is this part of me that got a taste for the wilderness as a child, when my family used to go to camping in the Cascades in Oregon where my grandparents owned land. We were surrounded by trees, would go on day-long hikes through mountain trails and stick our feet in the creek that ran past our tents if we got too hot. That is rest for my weary soul, in a way that the city cannot offer.
This past weekend I traveled up to the North Woods of Wisconsin to volunteer and hang out at Fort Wilderness, a camp that I worked at for a couple of weeks two summers ago. Fort is full of magical people who are cut of the same fabric as myself — people who love and get excited about the same things, who have such passion for life, who understand and love me. It’s so refreshing to go up there, even for just a few days, and come back revitalized and somewhat empowered. There’s something about the way you can contemplate life in the woods, how you can draw in deep breaths of wisdom and insight that you can’t seem to find anywhere else. And when there are wonderful people surrounding you at the same time, well, that’s the best. The woods revive me.
But at least for now they’re better as a retreat, as some place to go, not to stay. I remember being a kid at camp and having such a great week that I never wanted to leave, never wanted to return to “real life.” But we can’t stay on our mountaintop retreats; we must make the journey down, and find life in the decent. For me, the woods serve as a mountain top, a momentary pause, a time to collect myself and process a bit before heading back down. I’m never quite ready to leave, but I know that if I stayed, a bit of the magic would be lost, the peace would begin to get muddled. We can’t stay in our havens, trying to protect ourselves from the sorrows of the world. We must bravely continue on and find joy where we are. We must work to really live in our everyday lives. Though the woods bring me peace, the city makes me come to life. I find joy walking through the streets, gazing at the incredible buildings, surrounded by such a diversity of people. I love the busyness and opportunity. I am a city mouse who loves my city comforts, but my heart is glad to know that I can always jaunt up to Wisconsin, or wherever the woods may be found, and pause a moment, take a breath.
Perhaps one day I’ll end up in a place where city and wilderness meet (I’m looking at you Seattle — hello trifecta of city, ocean and mountains), but for now, I’m content with my city-dwelling.
P. S. I learned how to build a fire and play broomball this weekend. And last time I was at Fort I faced my fear of rivers and went on a three-day canoe trip. The woods are always teaching me something new.
Photo by Andrea Cheng for Kinfolk Magazine.