There is a troll and fairy forest in the Ann Arbor Arboretum, with a small sign at its entrance welcoming those who pass to come inside the tree-lined village, and if we’d like, build a house for a fairy or a troll from leaves, acorns, and sticks. Whatever has fallen can be used.
One November, my husband’s family paid a visit to us for Harper’s eighth birthday, and we hiked around the arboretum on a crisp, bright blue day. I was hollow that day, my body displaying what I wouldn’t yet admit — for fear of what would happen if I did admit it — that teaching as I understood it was no longer a good fit for me. Or that I was no longer a good fit for it.
That day my sister-in-law, also a former teacher, walked alongside me as I spoke quietly but roughly in angry, confused, and desperate fragments. “I know, I know,” she said encouragingly, even though I’m sure I didn’t make much sense. But she kept walking and listening, and the leaves that we stepped on crunched and the wind blew and the river beside us gurgled, and it felt good to be hidden in the forest with my secrets that made no sense but wouldn’t leave me alone.
Another time a friend invited me to run around the arboretum with her. “I’ll pick you up at 5 a.m.” she told me after I’d already said, “Sure, sounds fun.” We ran on muddy, uneven, windy trails as the morning broke. We talked about work and family while the forest began to wake up. We finished running up and down a set of about 80 stairs, and each time I made it to the top the sun was a tad bit higher, and I couldn’t tell whether I was breathless from the climb or from the great orange ball rising above the trees, letting the world know it was a new day.
During the furlough this year Jesse and I ran around the arboretum on our 20th anniversary. He’s always been faster than me, and normally I prefer that he go ahead. I hate slowing people down, and I’ve also always liked to do things on my own time, in my own way. This time, though, he refused, and together we ran up and down hills, past the fairy and troll forest, while we discussed what it is we are doing with this one wild and precious life of ours.
I have not lived in Ann Arbor long, but this place has imprinted itself on me — a place of magic, and secrets, a place of wonder and uncertainty, a place where I believe whatever has been broken can be built up again.
Take a walk in your neighborhood forest, if you have one. Maybe it’s a local greenhouse or a patch of trees beyond a baseball and soccer field. What do you notice? What do you observe? What ideas spring up? Write about your experience in a poem.
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