St. Mary's College of Maryland

The Mulberry Tree magazine is published by St. Mary's College of Maryland, Maryland's public honors college for the liberal arts and sciences. It is produced for alumni, faculty, staff, trustees, the local community, and friends of the College.

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Lee Capristo, editor
The Mulberry Tree
Phone: (240) 895-4795
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St. Mary's City, MD 20686

Cont'd from The Tonic of Wildness by Emma Reisinger:

***

I lived alone on a few acres in what passes for deep country, only a half-mile or so from my grandparents but separated by hundreds of miles from parents, friends, even acquaintances. This wasn’t a permanent arrangement—I only spent one summer there—but it was long enough to give me a taste of living alone that few women (and perhaps few men as well) my age have experienced. On my twentieth birthday, I woke up to young roosters testing their voices and fog veiling the mountains around my trailer and little patch of dirt. The scratchy boundaries of neighbors’ fields were obliterated in the daily morning obscurity that was particularly profound on this date, June seventh.

Even feeling literally saturated in my natural environment, I remained apart from it. The world around me did not offer companionship or any particular joy. I resented the old mountains hemming me into my small corner of the world. Nature didn’t love me, and that left me as forlorn as a rejected suitor. The morning dew was wet and miserably cold on my ankles. I shivered all night and sweated all day, never experiencing a happy temperature. Days seemed to whip around, day to day to night to rooster morning again.

But I was a member of the Sierra Club! I was a “Junior Ranger” a dozen times over! Wasn’t I supposed to love all this? Wasn’t this mist and dew and sunshine supposed to fill me with sublime happiness? Wasn’t this supposed to be enough, more than enough even?

It wasn’t.

And then it was.

I went to a state forest nearby—against my grandmother’s wishes—to walk alone in the woods. The asphalt gave way to a slimy wooden bridge and then a gentle rocky path. I was, oh, fifteen feet away from the ranger station and barely into the woods.

Then: fear strikes hard. I’ve been here before but always with company. Alone, I feel exposed and endangered. The horror stories that I’ve been told and that have been hinted at—I’ll be raped, I’ll be killed, someone’s going to pull a gun—take voice in my head.

My mental imaginings turn twigs falling into murderous footfalls. Meanwhile, the trail doesn’t seem all that wild. In my hiking boots, it is as easy to walk this trail as it is to walk down a sidewalk in town. Have I even entered “Nature”? Is this wilderness enough to bring transcendence? This Girl Scout had her cookies stolen. <

I think about turning back. In reality, the danger of this particular trail is close to zero. It’s daytime, and I’m highly unlikely to encounter anyone. If I do run into someone, it will probably be either a fellow hiker or some teenager lighting up. I might get funny looks (no one actually walks places in this county, land of the four-wheeler), but I’m more likely to get unwanted sexual attention while I’m driving my truck on the main roads, and I’m more likely to get mugged in a place where I actually carry a purse. Here, I’ve locked my driver’s license in the truck. I’m holding the key to the truck and a bottle of water. I’m wearing my mom’s old flannel shirt and ratty jeans. Nothing to see here, folks.

I keep walking, one fearful foot after another. The wave of panic subsides. I wander around for awhile until lightning turns me back toward home. A late afternoon summer storm seems to be heading in, and I want to make sure my chickens make it back into their coop safely.

Back at the farm, I step onto grass that is exactly like the grass on the hiking trail, and I am breathing the same mountain air I breathed so deeply as I tried to suppress a panic attack. I realize that it is all part of the same sphere of Nature, the empty hiking trail, the pitiful farm; the mist, the dew, the thunder. The world is not divided into Nature and the rest of it. Perhaps in some grand spaces, nature needs the capitalization, if only so the unobservant can kowtow with appropriate pomp and circumstance.

Starr, my grandparents’ dog, visits me, curls up in the grass. She tramples flat an oval in tall hay grass as deer do in the evenings and lies in the sun. In another patch of sunlight, I mash my own quadrant of hay and settle down with a book. The heat and a headache from the sunlight push me off to sleep.

Nature is right there in the aching sunlight and tough stalks of tall grass and the smelly dog who rolled in dead raccoon earlier. I don’t have to go anywhere to find it. Stepping outside of the trailer is entering Nature, or close enough. Grand vistas are grand, sure, but must all vistas be grand to be good? Maybe we just have a flawed perspective.

Every time I pick beans, I get better at finding more of them. The plant’s broad-based leaves flutter out over the camouflaged fruit and are remarkably concealing. Yet every pass over my few rows of beans reveals something new. The first time I contemplated a long row of green beans, I just saw a stripe of green. Eventually that clarified into individual plants, then leaves and stems and flowers fallen away and beans, and I could pick the long pods with ease . . .