By Missy Whaley
Surrounded by forty acres of wild woodlands, birds chirping, a vine slipping through and growing into my kitchen, I breathe in nature every day. Fruit is hanging from the peach, plum and apple trees in the front yard. The gardens that are in the front of my house succeed whether I weed them or not. Fairy beds glisten in the morning dew. It must be where the fairies rest after they clear away enough weeds to make room for the plants to grow.
The spring that flows out of the side of the hill pours its cool water into the pond. I jump in watching my arms move underwater. A fish rubs my leg as she passes. The creek behind my house catches the overflow. From my porch I can hear it rolling after a hard rain.
The driveway made from dirt and rock twists and turns. It winds below the green canopy, an aisle for the family of trees–maple, oak and shagbark. It isn’t unusual to see a fox or a box turtle or an owl walking or swooping across the driveway. I am used to the steepness of the incline, although visitors say they feel as if they are driving into the deep mountains of West Virginia or Alaska’s outback. This hill, this mountain is a daily rhythm for children in my care. We walk up to begin their day and down to end their day.
When I hear raindrops hit the tin roof this means I have water to wash clothes, drink, cook and bathe in. It will run through the gutters, through the filter and into a cistern. A rainy day is a good day.
When the sun shines and dries up all the rain, like the “itsy-bitsy spider” we go out again to walk in the woods. Everything seems awake. I notice, alone and with the children, the vibrancy that swirls around after the forest’s rainwater bath.
“Hoot… Hoot…” I hear while I lie in my bed reading. Then I hear a coyote howling. Both of their songs are loud enough that I know they are close. I sometimes walk outside and howl or hoot back. I want them to feel welcome. It brings me joy to be living so close, and I feel honored that they trust me and feel safe on my land.
My program space was built with an attention to surrounding children and adults with natural wood. My friend pulled the wood out of his woods with horses and milled it. My husband built the walls first and then I picked the places for windows to be cut out. I paid attention to where the children’s eyes would meet the light and the trees. One small window is shaped like a half circle. I call it “God’s Eye.“ When I am on the floor looking up through it, I imagine myself as a small child seeing the top of a tree, a cloud or a stream of light. I often have visceral memories from childhood that are related to a place with windows and me looking outside.
The wild woodlands where I live engage and remind me to have gratitude each day for the shifts in the weather, the importance of gardens and of carrying spiders and bees safely out of the house and the surprises that keep me connected to the natural world.
Missy Whaley is a LifeWays graduate who runs “The Family Tree” in her home and woodland space in Athens, Ohio.