Blog Entry #59
by Marilyn Herasymowych
Between the ages of four and ten, I lived in the North, near the 60th parallel, in a small, isolated mining town nestled inside the natural wonder of cold water lakes, rushing rivers, and unending forest. The town itself was unremarkable, in its harsh utilitarian way, but it was surrounded by an unforgiving beauty, unforgiving because as it gave life, it also took it. Every year someone froze to death on the side of a road or drowned in the lake. It was a wilderness, and yet, the Boreal forest was the safest place I had ever known, safer than anywhere, safer than my own family. I was one with the trees, the moss-covered floor, and the stained-glass light that filtered through branches and leaves. I felt loved in the forest, in way I never felt loved anywhere else. There, I had no fear, no anxiety, no paranoia, no sadness, and no despair. It was home.
I was in first grade when I saw the wolves come down from the forest to settle, perched on the edge of the forest bordering the school yard. It had been a severely cold winter with too much snow, and they were hungry, drawn to the town in search of sustenance, but too wary to actually go through with the plan. I was one of many children in a one-room school house, all of us watching the wolves through frost-lined windows, our breath catching the glass, as if to remind us of the boundary between us and them. I remember feeling drawn to the wolves, as if I belonged with them. They felt like home, a pack, standing together, no one standing alone. They were part of the Boreal forest, like the bears that rummaged through our garbage, like me.
Wolves had such a bad reputation, and were often hunted to oblivion based on that reputation and the fear it fed. But I never felt that fear, and I never saw what others did in wolves. I saw home, a place of belonging and sharing, a place in which everyone needed each other. In that moment, I felt that the wolves understood that being together, and loving each other, was much better than being alone. Even though I was lonely as a child in the North, I was never lonely in the Boreal forest. No matter what happened at home or at school, I always found the forest waiting for me as I’d run into its loving embrace.
When I was ten, we moved to big city in the South, to a new suburban development. I was devastated. The forest was gone. All of the trees in my neighbourhood were mere saplings, having recently been planted. It was naked and bare, and I was lost. There was no forest to run into, no place to feel at home. I longed for the coolness of a green forest in summer, and the deep blankets of snow in winter that drifted past each tree, piled up like laundry waiting to be washed. There were two spindly trees in our front yard, and not a living thing in the back. How could anyone live here? How could I live here? Suddenly, I was a lone wolf, stranded and trapped in the concrete and asphalt of progress. I worked hard to find anything that would bring me home. I thought I could revive the North with the sound of my rubber boots in spring breaking frozen puddles in graveled back allies, and my dreams of making tunnels in deep winter snow and hiding inside when the wind blew.
When I was 16, I discovered the river valley, about an hour bike ride from my home. I would ride down tree-lined cathedral streets, and feel the forest awakening my soul, so deeply hidden from view. In untended corners of the river bank, I found foot paths through thickets of scrub and brush that felt wild enough to give me solace. Although it was never enough, it kept me sane.
At 18, I rebelled. Like a lone wolf, trapped in a corner, with no way out, I lashed out at anyone who came near me. I raged at the world, at my family, at anyone who hurt me, and then I raged at myself for being so hurtful to others. No one accepted my apologies, so with each outburst, I grew more and more lonely. It was a vicious cycle of ripping relationships apart, and trying to mend the damage, only to find myself in the ruins of what was left over. By the time I met my husband Henry, I had forgotten about the Boreal forest, and how much I needed it. I had forgotten how to belong. But unlike everyone else in my life, Henry didn’t react to me when I raged in my despair. Instead he held me and soothed me and said nothing.
Henry is a quiet man, who says little, and shows a lot. In the early days of our marriage, Henry became the safest place for me to be, safer than anywhere. It would take years, but I would become whole in his embrace and silence, as I did when I became one with the trees, the moss-covered floor, and the stained-glass light that filtered through branches and leaves of the Boreal forest. I felt loved in his arms, like I had felt loved in the forest, like I had felt love in the pack of wolves that had stood perched at the edge of town. With Henry, I had no fear, no anxiety, no paranoia, no sadness, and no despair. I was home.