We moved to the woods in search of a home, a place where our sons have space for solitude. I wanted them to know the sudden upwelling of frigid spring water in an otherwise warm lake. The silver underside of leaves revealed by winds before a rainstorm. The ozone whiff of an impending January snowstorm mixed with the comfort of wood smoke.
We found our home in a village bounded by a brook on one side and a forest on the other. As my sons have grown up in these wild places, they've discovered their private retreats and preferred places of contemplation. My ten-year-old, Finn, is pulled downhill, toward the brook behind our house, while my fifteen-year-old, Ben, gravitates uphill, into the woods above the meadow.
Finn still sticks pretty close to home, where I’m close enough to oooh and aaah over his accomplishments, but not close enough to muck about in their execution.
Ben, on the other hand, ventures further afield, beyond my sight and shouting distance for long periods of time. When he was younger, he was much like Finn. He would announce his plans to map some deep, dark recess of a neighboring thicket or build a fort, then return to the house frequently to report on his progress. But now that he’s fifteen, Ben craves space. He slips out of the house with hardly a word and disappears over the crest of the hill on the other side of the street. When I press him for details of his adventures, he is infuriatingly noncommittal. He shrugs, and admits to little more than walking and thinking. Sometimes, when he has lines to memorize for a play or a paper to plan, he reports that he paces back and forth on his favorite paths.
As Ben moves through adolescence and into young adulthood, he retreats into his own head more and more often, and my glimpses into his world are becoming rare gifts. The child who used to show me every new and exciting discovery no longer needs me to weigh in on his life, and I miss seeing the world through his eyes.
Last weekend, I asked him to take me out into his woods and show me where he goes and what he’s discovered there. At first, we walked in silence, but as we moved through the meadow, he began to share his stories. We talked as we moved through the trees, making note of tracks and birds, and huge, upended pines. As the light fell, and we circled around toward home, he veered toward the tracks he’d made in the snow as we’d departed our village. I watched as he carefully matched his huge footsteps, in reverse this time, as we wended our way back home.