I remember looking out from the house and seeing the forest exposed in front of me. There were endless rows of trees – some white, some brown – all of them tall and impassive. I didn’t know the names for the trees, and anyway they didn’t look so much like many different trees as they did a single wall, a fortress, a garrison protecting something unsayable, something not reserved for human eyes.
I remember resting my hands gently against the glass of the sliding door as I peered out from inside the house. There was no mesh screen accompanying the glass, nothing to obstruct my view, just a thin pane separating me from the universe. Before the trees there was a yard, but I don’t remember whether it was grass or snow, summer or winter. Everything between me and the woods melted away. I became face to face with the wilderness.
And it was wild. From my youthful vantage point behind the glass door on the second floor of a three-story house in suburban Indiana, I was seeing into the most unknown territory, the most uncharted wilderness. Now I’m all grown up and away from the suburbs. Now when I look out into the forest I see only trees.
I look now into my backyard: a lush California topiary, an uninhabitable-by-anyone-but-the-birds sanctuary, a veritable rainforest of pepper trees, cypress, redwoods and eucalyptus. I know the names of the trees now, but I am farther removed from the wilderness. I look out into the forest now and I expect a forest, I know what forest means. I don’t spend a lot of time waiting for anything unexpected because my eyes have learned what to expect from a forest: trees, birds, leaves. I’ve seen it before. I don’t expect chaos, I don’t expect the unknown. It would be too much to expect all these things, all the endless combinations of life and the universe that could emerge from that forest. So, I blindly concentrate on the known and accepted.
The eyes I use now are trained and tamed by time, by convention. The eyes I used as a child were wild. They were powerful and unconnected to any assumed information. They saw truth without translating to words. They didn’t filter or force or divide. They accepted the world as it presented itself, and they let the images shock me. They let in motion and light in their entirety- whole, raw, magnified only because the visions contained so much beauty. My eyes were uncultured. They had no agenda and no expectations. As a child, I had no choice but to accept the unexpected, because my eyes were new. With time, I learned to see with my mind, and I have carelessly discarded the childish eyes that let me see beyond the expected things.
I look now into the forest and I watch a small bird with light brown feathers whose name I don’t know soar above the canopy, and as I watch I feel my heart lift, and the glass and yard melts away. There is something to be said for not knowing.