Opinion: Meet Me in the Woods

The author, Dallas senior Juan G. Rodriguez, kneels on top of a fallen tree in the Whitehouse Nature Center. One of the author’s favorite things to do in the Nature Center is to step off the trails and find joy wherever possible (Photo illustration by Juan G. Rodriguez).

On Thursday, I took one of my weekly walks into the Whitehouse Nature Center. Usually, I save this sort of trip for the weekend; on that day though, I’d finally completed a full set of surplus Swiss Alpine Camouflage – “Alpenflage,” as my friends and I have come to refer to it. 

I’d joked that the camo pattern was the perfect set of fall colors, that I’d practically disappear into my surroundings if I wandered off into the Nature Center on a random Michigan fall day. Seeing as how this semester has been less-than-ideal for me, the thought of it felt appealing.

So off I went to do an experiment; pretty quickly though, my plans shifted. 

The Nature Center is one of those places where it’s incredibly easy to get sidetracked; contrary to popular belief, the trails aren’t the only way to navigate the nature center. They take you to some interesting places, absolutely; I utterly adore the wildflower garden’s general wildness.

However, there’s just as much fun to be had when stepping off the trails – to sit on tree stumps and fallen trees; it’s such a joy letting my inner child run wild in a way my upbringing never really allowed for.

I didn’t get a strong confirmation as to whether I truly did disappear into my surroundings while I was on my own; it’s something my friends and I will have to figure out together some day. When we do so, I hope that we’ll all be able to goof around, to shed our facade of seriousness in the same way the trees shed their leaves for the colder season. It takes too much effort to maintain this more presentable version of ourselves. 

On ground-level, various bits of foliage still retain their green color while others turn a reddish-orange at this point in the season, contrasting heavily with the shedding trees in the background. Sights like these become common as the colder weather makes itself at home in the Whitehouse Nature Center (Photo by Juan G. Rodriguez).

Consider this me giving the Nature Center’s flora some love; the weather’s getting cold and the deciduous trees are losing their leaves, but they aren’t losing their beauty. They’re just doing what they need to in order to conserve energy for the season ahead. 

There’s something utterly fascinating about the things we do to survive, to greet the day ahead of us. I won’t sit here and moralize about that; we do what we have to and we don’t have to be proud of it or disappointed about it. We are all very much products of our environments. 

As life gets harder and the end of the semester looms on the horizon, trips like these become more important to me. They serve as a chance for me to be kind to myself, to lose my guilt and angst amongst the leaves.

Viewed from below, a mass of orange leaves remain atop a tree in the Whitehouse Nature Center. All around it, other trees have either lost their leaves or have very few left (Photo by Juan G. Rodriguez).

By the time I finished up that Thursday afternoon, my walk back to campus was an easier one than when I’d first left my room. I left the nature center with a lighter load on my back. All the while, indie folk rock duo The Oh Hellos hummed a song through my earbuds.

“Let me die, let me drown, lay my bones in the ground

I will still come around when the time for sleep is through.

Over hill, over dale, through the valley and vale

Do not weep, do not wail, I am coming home to you.”

As difficult as things may get, I’m happy that a place like the nature center exists. 

Go get lost in there sometime; it’s good fun. Just remember to take some boots with you.

Rodriguez sits atop the fallen tree palms-up as he tries to figure out a pose for the picture. Rodriguez tends to be awkward when getting his photo taken, but made an exception for the Whitehouse Nature Center (Photo illustration by Juan G. Rodriguez).
A vista that can be seen from the Whitehouse Nature Center (Photo by Juan G. Rodriguez).
About Juan G. Rodriguez 43 Articles
Juan G. Rodriguez is a senior sharing his time between Dallas and East Texas. He is majoring in English and minoring in Political Science. As an individual with two pencil leads in his left knee, writing seems to be the only career that Juan is capable of. Contact Juan via jgr13@albion.edu.

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