The Refuge of Community

There was a sense of disappointment at the loss of the swing, but it was getting dark out anyways, and I think the three of us were just happy to have gone on a very-mini hike together. And so we trudged back to the lake, a couple other people hanging around the benches, and sat on the little brick wall facing the fire pit, sadly filled with beer bottles and other little bits of trash. Ty’s phone still blaring music, we sat in the nice early-spring breeze and watched as several nycticeius humeralis, Evening bats, swooped around in search of bugs to eat. In that moment, I realized that the refuge offered by the Guilford College Woods was not only for virtue of its ability to grant physical freedom or escape, but was also found in the thread of love that tied all of us together. The Woods are important to me and almost everyone at Guilford now, just as they were important to indigenous people who lived in Greensboro long before it had such a name, to Levi Coffin and Vina Curry, to Dave and Tracy in 1984 and to decades worth of Guilfordians whose names I will likely never know. But despite the fact that I will never know them and they will never know me or my friends, we are connected through the woods. It’s a beautiful thing to imagine that long line of people, our community growing alongside the old growth forest, imagining how many people the Tulip Poplar had met alone. And even if it sounds like a cliche New Age attempt to seem “spiritual,” I can feel their energy all around me as I walk through the woods. I gaze at the carved bark on the trees and I feel them calling out to me, crying to be remembered. To be understood, to be loved. I feel the same desires inside me, and I wonder what monuments I will leave that will convey those feelings to the ones who come after me. But most importantly, as I feel the weight of all of that love, fear, and hope, I am comforted by the knowledge that I will never have to carry it alone. As I sit shoulder to shoulder between Ty and Marshall, watching the Evening bats make close-call divebombs above our heads, I realize that the true refuge the woods offers is the chance to be in a community so deeply and lovingly connected that it doesn’t require words. No collection of aspirated phonetics could ever speak as loudly as Nature did to me when I gazed across the woods in a haze and made eye contact with a doe much closer than I expected. The kind of intentional quiet I assumed in that moment felt nearly Divine in its power over me. It calls to mind Quaker worship and their form of intentional silence, but I think I’d take the woods over a meetinghouse any day. Some people go to Meeting to sit quietly and wait for God to speak, I go to the woods and sit quietly in hopes a deer will emerge from the vegetation and fix its big shining eyes on me. Perhaps in the end, those two silences run together and become the same thing. 

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