My love of nature conflicts with my disdain for constant solitude. I am lost in the woods. I sit on our kitchen deck listening to the babbling creek below wend its path from the mountains to the sea. The meditative chant of the water soothes me as it cantillates rhythmically over the rocks. I breathe in the deep clean smell of the redwood trees as they warm in the summer sun, mixing with the green bouquet of ferns and mossy rocks, the lightest trace of animal musk. A calm breeze soothes me. As the trees dance gently, they exude their woodsy earth scent, like a diffuser stick drawing out the magnificent aroma percolating in the earth. The raw, peaty scent of the coniferous giants centers me. It reminds me of that high I get when I smell freshly ground Sumatra beans brewing in the morning. The mid-afternoon sun pulls at the shadows from the forest floor. The tall canopy provides cooling shade while mottled slivers of sunlight bounce off the sparkling jade-colored leaves. The cloudless, deep blue sky meets my eyes through the jagged, furry arms of the redwoods. I breathe in the fresh coastal air. I feel my body relax, nestled at Gaia’s gentle bosom. In this moment, I feel peace.
My love of nature conflicts with my disdain for constant solitude.
I am trying to find tranquility and create harmony with my new life here in the Santa Cruz Mountains but often succumb to feeling ill at ease, out of place, lonely. I moved here with my husband and toddler son last Christmas. My husband is in love with this place. He belongs here as if he sprouted from a redwood tree. I came along for the adventure and of course, for love. That’s the easy part. I get lost in a moment here and trip out on the beauty, the smells, and the clean soothing air like the softest baby blanket. But alas, the meditative creek lends my ear to silence, absence. Isolation. We have no neighbors in sight. Any human interaction requires driving.
My husband is in love with this place. He belongs here as if he sprouted from a redwood tree.
The mountain people are friendly. Beautiful hippies, introverts, gardeners, artists, small town folks, salt-of-the-earth blue-collar families, Silicon Valley techies, yoga moms, and old goats scatter across my daily reel. They’re camouflaged though. Or maybe I am. Do they not see me? I can’t seem to connect with them. They recede into the tree line like woodland nymphs holding dear to the secrets of the forest. I stand alone, dumbfounded by the beauty and loneliness of it all.
When I venture out to seek community I am met by the confines and sit-stillness of a car. This is a source of stress, frustration, and depression for me. I try to train myself to think positively, live in the moment. I make use of the interminable daily drives by listening to Eckhart Tolle explain to me the Power of Now. I would prefer to listen to NPR but we get mostly static here in the mountains. I switch between the Monterey and San Francisco stations and relish the familiar, comforting voices as I happen along a clear spot.
I wish I felt satisfied by the silence of the woods but I do not. The constant echo of solitude chokes me. My oxygen is in the city. Cycling, walking, and running, they are my preferred transportation. I breathe with the pulse of humanity, in all its vulgar filth. It’s beautiful here and I love the woods, however, living squirreled away in them does not come naturally to me. Weeklong hiking and camping adventures or renting a cabin for a month in summer would be closer to the mark. But I do live here, in Paradise, for years to come. So I tell myself to take stock, be grateful for the gifts I’ve been given, and find a path to inner peace and happiness. Even if not for me, for my son, who is decidedly a tree nymph himself.
Finding new pathways to physical and mental health and spiritual well-being in solitude.
I am learning that I must cultivate happiness from inside myself because happiness is not inherent to my surroundings. To inspire the lifestyle shift from nature loving – but not living – city girl to mountain mama, I am attempting new pathways to physical and mental health and spiritual well-being. I don’t have the energy to battle the discomfort of isolation every day but most days, I put forth an effort and usually, each day is better than the one before it. As I take control of what I am able and alter my expectations realistically to meet this still unfamiliar lifestyle, I am finding a surer sense of well-being.
If I can no longer walk, run, and cycle anywhere, I can at least make the drives worthwhile. I bought a California State Parks parking pass so that my son and I have easy access to hiking trails when we can find willing and able hiking partners. We’ve also become regulars at a toddler yoga class in Santa Cruz. We often drop by the local swimming hole to splash around and drive into town to walk and imagine ourselves part of the community.
My husband and I are slowly planning our garden for harvest next year, which we’ll plant once we put up a proper deer fence. We didn’t establish a garden this year for fear of inviting prey animals that might attract mountain lions that might consider a human toddler to be a delicacy. For now, we tend mostly to the potted herbs we grow on our deck. We did plant lots of lavender and native flowers for our bees though, which we brought with us from the east coast. Here, I maintain my fantasy of someday becoming an urban semi-permaculturalist while not quite embracing the more beastly challenges of the forest.
I dance and twirl with my hula-hoop every day on our deck surrounded by redwoods. I dance like nobody is watching because surely nobody is, except for maybe a mountain lion. Our deck above the babbling creek is also an ideal place to write and reflect, especially when the cool afternoon shade coincides with my son’s nap time. Maybe I’ll finally get back to that childhood memoir I haven’t been writing for five years.
I see the beauty around me and feel myself…being nature.
I’m getting to know myself with new capabilities and am developing tools for combatting anguish. I compel myself to be physically and mentally active, engaging fully with my son as a partner in this forest adventure instead of the sad zombie mom I was all winter. I spend most of my days now outside drinking in the magical elixir of the forest, breathing the coastal mountain air, listening to the melodic creek. The grounding smells of the redwood forest suffuse my senses. I see the beauty around me and feel myself not just communing with nature, but being nature. Right now, in this moment, where I don’t have to drive anywhere, the afternoon shade soothes my skin, and I listen to the surrounding nature sing its mellifluous odes to Paradise, I am humbled by Earth and I feel at peace.
Author: Chrissy Miller
Chrissy is a California mountain mama newly transplanted from the east coast. She spends her days frolicking in the redwood forest with her toddler son, hula hooping, writing, cooking, and helping her husband tend to their plants and bees.
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