Art and LiteratureLife and Faith

I Went to the Woods Angry…

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life…”1

—Henry David Thoreau

went to the woods because I was angry. Hot tears threatened to spill over long-lashed rims and I did not quite know why. When I began throwing kitchen utensils, however, I knew one thing: it was time to hammer the ground with the soles of my feet in hopes of calming my soul. The two young men I passed in the Summer dusk of late-o’clock did not even attempt saying hello. I’m sure my face was stony, or at least, set like flint toward the direction I was steadily aiming.

My frustrations were many small things from recent days, weeks, and relationships that all came to roost after a particularly trying day at work. I came home looking for a relaxing long shower, only to find that without warning, my shower did not work. I snapped. I told myself that my anger was unwarranted—unreasonable, even. I spent some on-the-edge minutes at home thinking of all the good things about the day and week—and there were many good things. But no, the monster that changed all I could see into wave after wave of red tide swelled in my head, depleting oxygen from my brain and gratitude from my heart. On went my running shoes. Off I stalked in the late twilight.

Rain had beaten the tall, tender grasses into gentled submission, leaving plump droplets lying on those green beds. The rush and roar of the swift-racing stream pounded in my ears, faster than my feet could pound time on the earth. The pulse and throb of the world shifted as I stepped onto the dirt trail, smelling green summery smells, catching glints of fairy flickers along the path. Long I stood by a small stream laughing and chattering in the darkness, running to meet that swollen rush below. Long I listened to a solitary bird, echoing in the night. Ragged breath after breath was filled with the tang of the spicy firs. After some time of pouring out my heart to the Creator, those breaths came more slowly.

My feet found a rhythm in the evening dance. A slower, steadier pace, yet one often stopped. Once, by a host of white fairy-flowers, swaying with a gentle breeze. Again I was arrested by the change of smells as I rounded a bend or rose to a level mountain meadow. Scuffling and crunching on the hillside halted me—I caught three dim shapes, mule deer, putting a safe distance between us. The moon rose above the piney brow of the nearest foothill, shrouded in a veil of lingering clouds from an earlier storm. The diffused light rested on the clinging drops of rain, burnishing them to silver beads on grey-green strands. The Father of lights was arraying the world about me in all her glory and evening splendour.

Dark clouds engulfed the moon, the deer moved into further shade, the smells of the field sweetened and deepened. I turned back along the path, homeward bound, with a stillness inside that blossomed like those delicate, dancing flowerlets. I don’t know where I left my anger, but somewhere in that ramble it rushed away, like the stream after a storm. All that was left was Beauty and stillness, seeping into my senses through every pore. All along the path I was thankful for night flowers, fairy rings, the incense of the woods, and bird’s hymns.

I wanted to live deep and suck all the marrow out of life. I thought of that line as I padded home—having long loved the idea. But unlike Thoreau, the woods themselves are not my life-source sort of sustenance. My Light and Life lie in their Maker. He is the One who quiets my soul from things outside, his Spirit from within. He is the One who replaces anger with Shalom—perfect, peaceful well-being. He reminds me how small I am under the dome of stars or the great, dark boughs of the majestic pine. He shows me that just by doing bird things and signing bird-songs, the birds praise him because they are being what he made them. I am still learning to be human—a good and glorious thing—trying to know the uncracked, unfallen Son of Man in all of his glorious humanity.

I want to live deliberately, fully. I want to put away wrath. To do so, sometimes I have to  head for the woods; walking hard, breathing rough, and seeking the One who made both the forest and myself. He is in all places, of course, but I can’t always hear Him—my ears get deaf in the roaring whirlwind of everyday life-cares. I am thankful for the much needed evensong of wilderness and wet—let them live long, as Hopkins once said:

What would the world be, once bereft
Of wet and wildness? Let them be left,
O let them be left, wildness and wet;
Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet.2

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Johanna Byrkett

Johanna Byrkett

Johanna (Jody) Byrkett enjoys hiking various types of terrain, foggy mornings and steaming mugs of tea, reading classic literature and theological essays, studying words and their origins, and practising the art of hospitality. (She also has the singularly annoying habit of spelling things 'Britishly'.)

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