The following essay earned an Honorable Mention at the Midwest Writer’s Conference this year!
PROMPT: Between the ocean and the mountains is a wild forest. That is where I want to make my home.
An Essay by Kara Kavensky
In my earliest memory, I am held by my father. We stand beside my mom, who cradles my baby brother, as we look out the sliding glass door towards our expansive backyard. Our property covers 12 acres, mostly comprised of natural forest. The sky is varying shades of blood orange. Trees dance in the strong winds. The air smells fresh, almost electric, and I feel a tingling on my skin. Then, just above the trees, a funnel cloud appears. I hear the roar of a freight train and watch with wonder as the tornado touches down upon a small clearing, then lifts up and spins out of sight like a toy.
My dad points with and proclaims, “That’s where we are building the next house!” I was 2 years old.
My parents completed construction on a modern, A-framed home two years later on that very spot where the twister touched down. Most of the house was comprised of windows, seemingly bringing nature indoors. One morning, I woke up to find a Great Horned Owl staring directly at me from a large, dead tree. I did not win the “don’t blink” contest.
I spent countless days exploring our forest and the creek that meandered through it, observing its mysteries of nature, and our nights inside our home listening to nocturnal sounds from the screened porch. Encountering snakes, frogs, and lizards were daily activities, much to my mother’s dismay. When my brother and I unearthed a nest of hatching snapping turtles, we pleaded to save them from predators. I was appalled to discover that turtles have zero parental or nurturing capabilities, abandoning their young. We must have worn our mother down, for she allowed us to bring them into the kitchen, feeding them while they flopped around a shallow baking dish.
“We are taking them to the zoo!” announced my mother. I did not understand why I could not keep one.
“Wash your hands!” was a common statement uttered by our mother. It was almost a threat. That, and, “Look alive!” I never understood that one.
The forest’s canopy provided cover for my expeditions. I found arrowheads in the stream, watched snakes bathing in sunrays upon rocks, and listened to various species of birds. While much of my exploring was on my own, I never felt lonely. I was fearless, but curiosity gave me a healthy respect for my surroundings. My inquisitiveness was never sated due to the awe of discovery I experienced.
Each day I marveled at the various species of birds, the skittishness of the squirrels hopping through the leaves, and the deer, the largest animal in our forest, yet the quietest.
The sound of the breeze blowing through the trees provided the background melody for the chorus of birds and other animals. I have always been grateful for the wind. Not only is it a comforting sound, it teaches resilience. The stress of wind builds resilience in trees, with their trunks fighting against it to grow strong and tall.
Our family vacations were typically spent at resorts near a beach or skiing in the Rockies. I enjoyed the sounds of the crashing waves, but I longed for the solace and protection of the forest. I found dirt far more entertaining to play with than sand. Mountains stand ominously silent and majestic. Their peaks are beautiful, but mountains also represent isolation. Besides, the threat of larger predators in the food chain, namely bears and mountain lions, freaks me out.
When I graduated from college, my mom sold our home in the woods. As she swept out the basement, she discovered a seven-foot-long snakeskin under my dad’s workbench. “Now I am officially spooked,” she said.
Now I live in an area that can accurately be called “nature on a leash”, replete with walking paths, designed parks with ornamental landscaping, and sparse patches of residual forest areas. Ironically, I see a wider variety of wildlife here than I did growing up. A fox may meander through our yard, coyotes periodically howl in harmony at night, and hawks love to stop by to check if any small prey may be in our yard. It’s as if these creatures don’t mind the development. Indeed, they were not consulted on the sale and transformation of their habitat.
I feel alive in nature. Being surrounded by trees provides a sense of security. The forest, however wild it may be, represents shelter. The wild forest never left me; it will always be my home. And if I am still, I can hear the familiar whispers of the wind through the trees.
Just don’t ask me to camp in it.