If you were to take a couple of steps northwest of my mother’s house in Milford, you might find yourself walking through a small school of trees. This wood, hardly more than 1,000,000 square feet (or just about 23 acres) spans the gap between two different collections of property, a neighborhood and a branch of southwestern Ohio’s vocational schools, Great Oaks. When I think about nature, and my connection to it, I return here almost every time because it is where most of my experience took place.
All discoveries, even shared ones, are personal. McKibben’s rumination that there may be some added quality in a place when a person is the first to see it strikes me as extreme for a couple of reasons. To begin, it devalues that place as a part of nature, because it is then valued as something to be claimed. So, instead of appreciating that piece of nature, it seems like that piece is valuable only as something that humans can gain or use. There is a source of pride in property, but saying, for example, that going to the Arctic Circle is less of an experience simply because someone else has already experienced it is ridiculous because the Arctic Circle is going to be the Arctic Circle whether or not you or someone else goes. To me, it sounds a lot like saying a good movie is not as good if someone else has seen it, or even, if you have seen it before.
At one point in time, my cousins and I believed that we did own part of the wood behind the house. But as time went on, it was harder and harder to maintain that sense of property. Over winter and into spring every year the wood re-evaluated itself and shifted. Many parts remained the same, but ultimately, the paths grew over without asking us and the ground evolved. Walking and playing in the wood then became a matter of sharing with our neighbors and learning how to use the space together. Once we were able to do that, we were able to enjoy the wood and each other’s company more. We still had spaces we liked to call our own, but we could share those spaces, and feed off of each other. The magic of imagination became so much greater when we shared it, something immeasurably important in just a handful of acres.