The Gift of the Forest Mother

Lady Slipper Orchid Colony on the Pond Dam

It’s a clear spring day and I wander into the woods behind the hen house, over the high ridge of the pond dam and its lady slipper orchid colony, into a low-lying forest carpeted with giant ferns… a place I never go because of the snakes I envision encountering there.  I am searching for a lost Belgian bantam, a friendly, speckled chicken the size of a wind-up toy.  Stepping gingerly over logs, my eyes scanning for the faintest flutter of feathers or slither of scales, I instead spy a toppled wooden child’s chair.  I move toward the chair through damp needles and notice they are dotted with bright blue iridescent neck feathers dropped there from the tall Virginia pines over my head where our farm’s peacocks nest, 30 feet up, in a swaying embrace.

Resisting growing dread, imagining every lump on the soft ground to be a small feathered body, I catch my breath when a skeletal sentinel blocks my way.  A dead fir tree from a bygone Christmas stands purposefully propped against the thick bark belly of a tall pine, apparently guarding something on the other side.  I peek around the now bare branches of our family’s old holiday tree, remembering the magical sparkle they once radiated, and peer into a shadowy, sheltered copse where more abandoned children’s chairs and a small leaf-blown table appear to be arranged for secret meetings.  Holding my breath, I take in the view with the understanding: I was not meant to trespass here.

I never knew about the forest playhouse my son built for himself.  I remember asking him, telling him, to avoid the fern and pine forest behind the pond dam, the preferred boggy grounds of poisonous water moccasins and copperheads.  The pastures and woods surrounding our small farm offered safer grounds to play, I reasoned with him.  Maybe he considered, because I was afraid, I wouldn’t venture into this remote part of the forest, while he, fearless and in need of a sacred space to forge his own connection with nature, deemed this spot perfect?

I think I stumbled upon my son’s sanctuary in the woods that day for a reason.  It was time, in my own parent development, for me to bear witness to a truth that I would need reminding of in the immediate years to come…

In his second year in middle school, my son perched expectantly on the edge of manhood.  The tension, excitement and agony over waiting for the signs adolescence to appear meant daily comparisons of his hands and feet to mine and the top of his head to my chin. Sometimes he would fool me and stand on the balls of his feet while talking casually for so long I wouldn’t notice he wasn’t that tall until his arches gave out and he dropped a few inches in front of me with a frustrated, “Aw, man!”

Now, driven into the dank part of the woods I feared by a desire to rescue a lost hen, I eye with wonder from a distance the small sheltered grove’s roof of low branches that prohibit my adult body from entering.  Heavily layered incense of pine needles and composting earth press into in my gaping mouth as my mother’s heart opens to receive the implicit message: my son may have come from my womb, fed from my breasts, and been held by his father and I for 12 years, but he possesses in completion his own connection to the earth and his own ideas about how to forge and maintain that connection.  In awestruck acknowledgement, I confess… I can witness and encourage, but really, I am not needed, or welcome, for this part of his path.

The insight gently pours into my heart on sunlight beaming through a soaring cathedral ceiling of pine branches past my wet eyelashes in a tender kiss on its way to form shifting patterns with the small blue feathers on the marbled forest floor.  A formerly distant shore is reached, grace freely given and permission granted from my son’s Forest Mother, who keeps him safe and nurtured in natural wonder, to enjoy the coming years of adolescence and to pass on the war stories well-meaning friends with older children rush to share with me these days.  I am free, in my own necessary next step of motherhood, to embrace with full confidence the truth of my son’s connection to a greater Mother who fiercely loves and protects him as much as I and his father have throughout his now-ending childhood.

The spell breaks and I remember to breathe, then turn away from the guarded entrance to the forest sanctuary that I wasn’t meant to find, but with the wisdom that I was, and whisper gratefully, thank you, thank you.

Note to reader:  I wrote about this blessing of insight wisdom as soon as I walked up the hill and into the house.  It is a true story.  And, that evening, the little hen came home.  Her picture is below!  LR

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