The resolve to be more Christian than Christian didn't work out so well, as that would mean I'd have to be around them all of the time.
That last semester of my first year of college, I had so much going on inside that I felt raw, skinless, all nerves. I had so many questions trying to burst from me that the tiny vent of my mouth got clogged, rendering me silent. Mute. I didn't want to speak anymore. I didn't want to look people in the eye. I stopped attending classes. The presence and expectations of others was unbearable. The normalcy, the sanity of everyday life was driving me insane.
So I went where I could breathe deeply, where I didn't have to speak... I escaped into the forest.
I was all eyes and ears and nose and touch, and the forest was big enough to encompass the craziness, enfolding my exploding brain with wind and creaking trees, green and sap, birds and stream, blossom and sun. I was allowed to begin again, able to scrape the charred rind off of my heart and start fresh. I came to the forest as I was, and it accepted me. I carry the jewel-like memories of that time deep inside me like seed crystals, God crystals. They helped me endure what was to come: doctor, train, near-death and onward down the troubled paths into the future.
There is a stream, deep in the forest, where a bed of purple clams gleam and burble, tan sand runs flecked with pyrite, pebbles tumble, and all are untouched by hungry raccoons or curious humans.
Carpets of pink and red bleeding hearts bloom under the multitude of evergreens and towering maples, as far as I can see in the thick, wet air.
Spiraling ferns and fiddles unfurl up wide trunks of craggy bark, shaggy moss, over the sticky-shimmering paths of land snails twining over limbs. I collect their shells, brown like nuts, like caramel, I keep them in a box with pungent nuggets of hardened pine resin. I will always keep this gold of the forest, secret money for me.
I know where the great tree lies across the creek, like the great tree of the world that fell, and I see the minnows and turtles that hide in its shadow, avoiding the ripples of open water. I see how we all hide in the shadows.
If I crouch down among the ruby-red stalks and peach-colored blossoms of policeman's helmets, I can hear a hundred fuzzy bees, I can see the green metallic beetles finding mates, I can feel the hum and the sun and the click. I am more alive here than anywhere. I am more yours here, O Lord, than anywhere else.
In a bank of stinging nettles I find a bird's nest made of green and brown moss, and a single butterfly's wing, woven and tattered into the downy feathers of the central bowl.
Wild blackberries and salmonberries are my feast, my challenge, I can spy them by their shadows behind sunlit leaves, winnowing between vines or stalking their stalks, in shadow or light. The sweetness is neither too little nor too much, the black tart and the pink musty and mellow. I pity the people who never taste them thus, who never know such simple completeness.
I am rich to bursting in these moments. I am fully present.
Coming back to people was like slipping into a troubled sleep, a busy-dim awareness, like diving into a dark pool and holding my breath, until the time that I could surface again into the light and freedom of the forest.