Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Nature's Healing Solitude

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Nature's Healing Solitude

Article excerpt

Morning mists retreat up the hillside as I walk into the woods. For a while, the early-fall chill makes me repent of leaving my jacket at the house, but as the sun climbs higher and the hill gets steeper, my need for a coat vanishes.

Near the crest of the ridge, a chipmunk on an early acorn-scouting mission tries to pick a quarrel with me as I cross the rocky glade that is his home. But I am in no mood to fuss back at him (or maybe it's her). I am on vacation; a vacation I take almost daily in these woods I call mine.

By no usual measure is this an impressive swatch of earth. Scaling barely 60 acres, minus the right-of-way for a public road, the size is not braggable. The corrugated Ozarks topography is as much vertical as horizontal. This patch of rocky soil might grow decent grass under different husbandry, but it could never be good for corn or soybeans. It is, however, great for the soul. These trees, these rocks and their animated citizenry are my refuge from too much modernity; a place where I can sidestep the habitual haste that seems to afflict us all; a sanctuary from ever-present electronic nagging that induces a certain amount of chronic edginess. "That brushy hillside is your escape from reality, huh?" a friend at coffee said to me not long ago. I agreed at the time. But I since have rethought what these woods represent. These hills I walk are not an escape from reality, they are reality. Escape is Home Box Office and ESPN. This land is real unchanging, but ever different. A white oak that has leaned away from the westerly wind for a hundred years is reality. Office buildings with their glassy-eyed stare are escape. In these hills, it's as if supernatural hands once held a geologic taffy pull, folding and twisting the earth's crust into long ridges and deep valleys. The Ozarks were old when more youthful highlands, such as the Rockies, were only a twinkle in the Creator's eye. As a result, my hills wear the weathered and wrinkled visage of an old man, rather than the acne-like eruptions of new geologic uplifts. Who can own land so long in the making? Despite what is written on the deed and tax receipts, I have come to belong more to this land than the land belongs to me. …

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