The Refuge of Wildlife

What I realized from reflecting on my snake dreams was that perhaps the possible existence of snakes in the woods was part of what makes the Guilford College Woods able to function as a refuge. After all, refuges are not singularly for human beings; “wildlife refuge” is a very common phrase to hear in conservation circles. Often, being the bird lover I am, I think of places in terms of the birds that live there. The lake that sits at the entrance of the Woods is populated by a single Muscovy duck (once half of a pair, the other having been relocated) and a flock of Canada geese. I love geese, and have ever since I watched Fly Away Home in a dark classroom in middle school; Mary Chapin Carpenter’s version of 10,000 Miles is still nearly enough to bring me to tears. I remember times spent by the lake this year, as midterms and now finals ravaged my first year of college more than I ever expected, little spots of brightness emerging as I close my eyes and picture my friend Marshall tossing okra anxiously at the muscovy hovering nearby, or I remember sitting on the bench in the Woods, staring up at the Carolina wrens and chickadees perched in the beech branches while Ty told me about the mockingbirds that lived (and cried out, frequently) in her neighborhood’s trees. I think of those moments and realize that while my solitary time spent encircled by geese was lovely, the Woods were much sweeter when I experienced them with my friends. Recently, I complained to the aforementioned Ty and Marshall about how someone had removed the plank from the swing tree’s rope. Although it filled me with adrenaline fueled by my fear of heights, I loved the swing tree and was deeply hurt by the petty theft laid against it. So we ventured out to try and repair it, Ty’s phone blaring Nicki Minaj hits in the near-sunset. I led us the wrong way at first, and had to backtrack to the fork and correct our trajectory. We arrived at the swing tree, adorned with carvings of names and symbols, most notably one that said “DAVE N TRACY FRIENDS ‘84”. I was reminded of my first encounter with this carving, on a walk into the woods alone in late February. I almost always went to the lake and the woods by myself, feeling afraid of seeing other people, or even worse having them see me. I never really felt I belonged, always seeming to creep among the trees like a trespasser, an outsider. I remember hoping that one day I could overcome that fear, not have to run away from the geese and back to Milner every time someone approached the lake, my skin itching and feeling sick all over from having someone else see me and still be willing to approach. But even as we failed to repair the swing, the black rope hanging empty like a noose near the ground, I still felt a kind of comfort and belonging that I hadn’t ever really felt when I was by myself.

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