The bend in the road is familiar. After years of driving here, it no longer takes any thought. I slowly direct my car into the driveway, my headlights landing on the ancient trees of our backyard and beyond, into the woods. After shutting off the lights and engine, I allow myself a moment of quiet before my family spots me. I watch their silhouettes through the window, allowing myself a glimpse into their lives without my presence. I glance into the woods, and am flooded with an array of memories, rooted in my childhood. After only one bittersweet minute, a little face appears in the window and lights up as it spots my car. The dogs begin to bark. My quiet time has passed and the chaos that I call my house envelops me as I’m summoned inside.
This house is where I lived, but not where I spent my childhood. Rather, I spent it outdoors, in the woods of our backyard. To a child, five acres of land opens a whole world. It is in these woods that I built forts, explored my neighbor’s property and “ran away” when I was in trouble. As I became older, it is where I rode my horses, escaped my chaotic house and family and fell in love for the first time. Now it is where I watch my four younger siblings being raised, skirting around the ghosts of my own memories and experiences.
Years later, I can still close my eyes and conjure up the way these woods looked when I was a child. They were younger, just as I was. The trees were smaller, shorter, yet they still towered over me. There were a few cement slabs on the ground used as a make-shift stage, surrounded by various forts composed of branches and leaves. When it rained, a river formed in the rivets of the ground. I clearly remember one day when I was in trouble. The reason why is long forgotten, but at the time it was likely the end of the world. I glared up at my parents, announced that I would be running away forever, and set off into the woods. They humored me and watched me walk to a stack of hay bales and wriggle between them so I couldn’t be seen. It was there that I begin writing 1,000 words about what I had done to be in trouble – their form of a punishment, now my form of release.
As I grew older, I no longer felt the desire to build forts or explore. I knew every inch of the woods and felt that they couldn’t give me more than they already had. I was wrong. I now realize that they gave me peace and serenity, something that very few places are able to do to this day. There was an old tree that had fallen next to our horse shelter, providing a perfect perch to sit and talk. It was on this tree that I fell in love for the first time – head-over-heels, can’t-think-of-anything-else love – and to this day it remains the only time I’ve felt that way. It was here that my best friend gradually became something more. We would go to this tree after school and talk until dark, discovering those small parts of one another that constitute a relationship. Before I knew it, it was four years later and we were in the midst of breaking up – yet I would still find solace here.
I no longer venture into our woods often, something that saddens me when I realize so much of my childhood took place there. I do, however, witness my siblings having the same experiences as I did. On a sticky summer day, they can be found building forts in the spots where the ghosts of my own still hover. In the prime of spring time, they’re splashing in the rivers – rivers I’ve realized were never really rivers – but who am I to tell them that? They deserve to have every fond memory of their childhood that I have.
A home doesn’t need to have a house. All it needs to do is be able to give – whether it’s giving feelings of comfort, security, or serenity. I consider these woods to be my home. They are where I learned the most about life, whether it be through a 1,000 word essay or a first love and first loss. These woods have provided me with everything that a home should – most importantly the memories I savor. As my adult life unfolds and I return to my house, I also return to my home. I hope to one day be married there, on a crisp autumn day, and go on to possibly watch my own children (IF I have them) share the same home as I did in my youth. That’s the most incredible part about a home: it keeps on giving.