There is pleasure in the pathless woods, giving me a sense of belonging, even in this element where I have no home. The strong scent of the pines, wet from November rain, fills me with memories of family gatherings at Christmas. My sister, my mother; the well-prepared duck, caramel potatoes; presents given and received.
It’s a funny thing, the memory. How it bends and stretches, forever finding different situations to fit the one you’re in. The way a simple scent of pine can send your mind racing back years, decades. Into different settings, a different life almost. Letting you travel through time and space in no time and in any space, until you find the memory you most want to stay on—and only then it fails you, when you realise a memory is not the present, and though you feel like you can navigate through it, its sensations will only stay with you for a fleeting moment, until a gust of wind forces drops of water from the pines down onto your unprotected head.
‘Trance’ might be the closest thing we have to a describing concept of the feeling of being lost in thought. Not unlike the sensation as you’re guided into hypnosis, breathing first slowly, then with an ease as if you’re not even breathing at all. Your muscles tensing up for a moment, before letting go, making you wonder afterwards how you even managed to stay upright—was that just your insistent spine keeping your head above ground? And finally the closing of your eyes, either metaphorically or physically, as your mind wanders off on its own while your legs are planted in the damp moss with all the other trunks.
What separates human beings from other animals, I believe, is this ability to escape the present and become overwhelmed by something outside the frame of the picture.
What separates human beings from human beings is what place we go to.
I’m not suggesting that animals have no imagination. I have seen my dear dog have what I can only explain as dreams, with its legs running, its mouth making little sounds, while deep in sleep. But as soon as the animal that is not human wakes up, it seems destined to face the world it’s in.
The human being is able to look at the world and say: not today, and close its eyes, going to a different place altogether while staying put. It’s possible for me, on a lonely day, to hug the trunk of a pine tree, and believing this piece of nature to be my mother. That, to me, is a human skill. And one that we’ve only just begun to explore.