Near my home in bustling suburbia is a stretch of thick woods. I walk my dogs there and this past winter, I found myself intrigued by its natural bounty. Trees, vines, fallen logs, streams, hollowed-out stumps, pine cones, gumballs, rocks and reindeer moss.
The more I looked, the more I saw.
One tree in particular – an oak – appealed to me. Several feet up from the ground, its trunk split into two parts and then continued toward the sky. In the crook, another tree had fallen.
So while my dogs were sniffing about one afternoon, I collected some sticks and fiddled with placing them in the crook of the tree.
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Two young boys wandered by while I was working. “It looks like a dragon,” one of them said.
I stepped back. Sure enough, it did.
And so, the “woods project” began. Several months later, a collection of creatures made of natural and recycled materials (green caps from plastic Mountain Dew bottles for eyes, clear plastic bottles for scales, horns and tails) appeared in the woods.
What I learned during these months – through the chill of winter and into the teasing warmth of early spring – was, ironically, not so much about nature but about people.
Some were curious; some were not. Some would simply walk by without batting an eye. Still others would return again and again to talk about the project.
In general, I found children to be far more curious and willing to get involved than adults. For one dear adult friend who helped me finish a particularly complicated sculpture (thanks, Claudia), there were a dozen children habitually turning up to chat, collect sticks and build their own things (mostly forts). I learned some of their names – Luke, Collin, Isaac, Bobby, Jack, Bennett, Brady and little Maggie.
One child whose name escapes me posed a simple question. “What is all this?”
“Whatever you want it to be,” I answered.
Apparently that was a satisfactory response. “Cool,” he said.
Several adults asked, “Aren’t you worried someone will destroy all this?”
Yes, I suspected it was bound to happen.
And it did.
Last week I went into the woods to check on my creatures. Several of them were toppled over, strewn about. The dragon, by far everyone’s favorite sculpture, was a former shadow of its grand self.
I sat for a while, considered the damage, and whether to rebuild or let the project go.
It’s one of the hardest things humans have to do, you know. Letting go. We let go of so much throughout our lives – people, pets and places we love, hopes and dreams, favorite things that finally give out.
So, I made my decision. Abandon the project. Collect the plastic stuff and let the natural materials rejoin the Earth.
And then, I talked with some of my young friends.
Collin wondered why anyone would destroy the work. “What’s the point in doing that?” he asked.
“No one needs to do that,” said Luke.
“They’re trying to make themselves feel better by making someone else feel worse,” Isaac theorized.
“They’re just dumb,” said Jack.
Then I asked my buddies what I should do about it.
“If you build something and it gets destroyed, you feel bad,” Jack said, “but you should rebuild it.”
“Yeah,” said Bobby, “don’t give up.”
But why? Why not let it go?
“Because,” Isaac said, “it makes people happy.”
And that, I suppose, is reason enough to return to the woods.
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