Living things inside the living thing

Out here the land is always present in you. The smell of wet leaves in your nose after a rain. The glittery glare of stream water in the noonday sun in your eye. The sharp crack of a twig breaking under foot. The grit of fresh soil under your nails. The silence of snow pressing in on your ears.

The land is everywhere around you, in you. You come out here and you find it again. Right where it always was.

Land reciprocates. The deeper you go, the more it reaches out to you, into you. The more you become part of the land, the world, the more it becomes part of you. It’s a simple truth I suspect good gardeners, farmers, anyone still living in the land knows well.

The land is how we locate ourselves, our past, our present, how we measure the scale of ourselves in the world. We lose touch without the landscape to remind us. The land operates on a different scale. Some of the trees near me right now were seedlings during the civil war. The rocks record forgotten dreams of yesterday’s creatures. The land turns us all back into land eventually.

Let the land define your scale and your sense of the world enlarges. The way you see yourself within the world changes. Not in a reasoned, philosophical sense, but in a lived, experienced sense.

It envelopes you slowly and subtly. At first you hardly notice. But then you notice things. You begin to sense the rhythms of the land. Your body soon knows when the sun rises. The hour of the day becomes less a number, more a quality of light. You notice the phase of the moon, where it is in the sky, when it rises, when it sets. Soon you know without thinking which way is east.

None of these are things I set out to learn. They are simply things I have come to know. Extra dimensions of experience that were always there, but in the background. They are not the background of the story though, they are the story.

I wish I could claim that this all dawned on me, or came to me in some profound way, but it did not. It was gradual. So gradual I can’t even go back and trace the path of thoughts that led me here, or even find an origin. It arrived so slowly and subtly it felt as if it were something I had always known. So obvious in hindsight it’s now impossible to imagine a time when I did not think this way. And I don’t think twice about any of it, until I brush up against those for whom these things are not so much a part of daily life.

I try to keep it in check around others. It feels like censoring myself, like I am holding back key elements of the story by leaving out all these details, but I also think it’s the polite thing to do. I do not like to impose my world on anyone. It is okay to do here, you came here of your own free will. You can easily leave here of you own free will and I will never know. But I do not usually speak of these things in person.

Still, I would be lying if I said I am the same person who drove out of Athens three years ago. And I’m not sure that the experiences that lie between then and now are the reason. The more time I spend thinking on it, the more I think it is not me at all. It is this land. It is this world, what is left of it, that reached out and grabbed me in ways I was not expecting.

As I told someone the other day, it’s all good and well to go out in the woods, but one day you’ll realize you’re not talking to the trees, you’re listening to them. And once that door swings open, there is no closing it. Once you see the world this way you cannot unsee it. It stays with you, it is part of you.


Gwen December 30, 2019 at 8:31 p.m.

Have you read any Wendell Berry? It seems like you would appreciate him.

Scott December 31, 2019 at 10:44 a.m.


Not really. I read some essays once upon a time in college, but I don’t remember anything really. I will put him on the list for the new year, thanks.

DREW ELDRIDGE January 29, 2020 at 2:59 p.m.

My favorite passage so far.


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