“Do you know where you are?” a voice inquired. Thunder rumbled softly in the background and a cool rain pelted down, but underneath the fig tree only an occasional drop slipped through.
Soft rays of sunlight broke through the leaves, and the tree exuded a sweet aroma in the rain, creating a feeling of utter wonder. It was in this magical moment that I was asked this question. Just moments before, I was alone in the hills above Monterosso, Italy, surrounded by forest and the occasional olive tree farm.
Wiping the sweat and raindrops from my face, I laughed, “No, I know where the sea is and generally know how to get back, but no, I have no idea exactly where I am.” I looked up at this stranger, apparently out for a morning run. Gazing back up at the fig leaves, I knew the deeper meaning of my answer. I was not lost but I was lost.
I had my bearings: the sea, the mountains, and an occasional glimpse of the sun provided a clear map of how to return. I was, however, lost to exactness – it was a choice to feel a little out of control. “Can you find your way back safely?
I have water and a bad map I can share?” I offered the stranger. He smiled and continued on his run. Perhaps he, too, just wanted a morning to escape into nature, into the moment, into letting his feet take him away.
Earlier that morning, I had stepped onto what I believed to be the path that had been directed to me.
As I walked, small clues told me this was not the path, but curiosity kept my feet moving forward until the rain came and a fig tree provided protection.
Running my fingers through dirt, my imagination escaped to a favorite book, The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben. His words echoed in my head, “There are more life forms in a handful of forest soil than there are people on the planet. A mere teaspoonful contains many miles of fungal filaments. All these work the soil, transform it, and make it so valuable for the trees.”
I looked back down at the soil between my fingers and wondered at Wohlleben’s words. What worlds did the fig tree hold in its soil? Fig trees are a symbol of abundance; they provide life and shelter all over the world. In Northeast India, people encourage fig roots across rivers so they can act as a bridge during monsoon season. In Ethiopia, fig trees are helping farmers adapt to drought by providing vital shade.
My fig tree, a common fig, provided me with escape. Escape from the rain and escape into the moment of living just in my senses. Most synonyms for the word escapesuggest a negative connotation. I prefer Rebecca Solnit’s interpretation in A Field Guide to Getting Lost:
“The things we want are transformative, and we don’t know or only think we know what is on the other side of that transformation. Love, wisdom, grace, inspiration – how do you go about finding these things that are in some ways about extending the boundaries of the self into unknown territory, about becoming someone else?”
Escape is an essential part of the human experience, and nature provides the perfect environment for getting lost inside ourselves, while at the same time encouraging us to step outside ourselves.
It forces its hand, and we must give in to the wonder. Sometimes the path laid out to us, is just one option.