The Last Man in the Woods

Jan 1, 2013 by


Watercolored Woods | Rotary Park | photo

As far as physical places go, I have only ever reliably felt completely safe and peaceful in this world in the woods. The deepest woods. These are the woods I’ve gone to where no one knows I’ve gone. It’s true, were I to fall down a steep slope, broken-boned, into a little-traveled, lesser known gully or ravine, it might take days to find me. But maybe that’s the point. Not the falling, hurting and the maybe dying.

Woods where no one can find me.

It is a liberation to sit in a pine forest, as the afternoon light fades and the odd, ochre light of dusk begins to paint shadows in the woodland air. If it is a parkland, people gone out for their couples stroll or daily exercise will have gone home for dinner or the day. The parkland will be mine. I will be the Last Man in the Woods. Or the first, since early, early morning is a good time to find the woods alone, too.

This is when I hope the wind to rise. For there is almost no thing more lovely to hear in this life than a wind got up, moving right to left, west to east, across the tops, through the leaves, of standing armies of pine, sycamore, maples, oaks. The ruffle, the shrrrrrr, the riffling of the wind is like to blow, too, not just through the branches, lifting my hair and washing my skin, but through the head itself. My thoughts, the purple-black ones and deep blues ones, the red-hot ones, bend like a column of smoke in the wind and are carried off.


I take my shoes off. Socks. Feet in the dirt, framed by last year’s leaves. Soil of earthworm and pine needle. The warm spice tang of loam in my nostrils. Off to the left, a split-trunk tree, twinned branches diverged early on in its growth. Now, fifty years forward, it grows like the letter ‘V’, branches splayed as if the forest floor were flashing the victory sign.

I come to the woods sometimes, often, actually, when exhausted. It takes a certain size of woods to hold a certain size of exhaustion. If it is a big exhaustion, the kind from too many decades of the same old worries, the same old untendered neuroses, the kind I have been secretly nurturing almost like a treasure all these years, then big, miles-deep woods are required. The kind whose paths wind and wind, deep and back upon themselves, veer and climb until you round a bend and there below is all creation. Or enough a part of it, seen through ten million gallons of misted air, as to contain the wearied, tiny spirit, which gives up its hold upon your clenched mind, in the face of a greater thing.

I hear my footsteps and wonder how long I have left to kick branches, to pluck up stones that fit into the palm of my right hand and fling them at the center bark of some tree, testing my boy’s arm now that I am a man. To gauge if my aim is yet true. And — after some practice throws — it is. If I get myself out of the way. The urge, the desire to hit the tree, is what gets in the way. The eye’s aim, then the throw, is all. When I do it right, there is no rightness to it. It is just right, and I ping! the tree. Or maybe I go for the white metal sign that says ‘No vehicles past this point.’ And the woods, which up to now have only sounded with the skree of bluejay or the rustle of some deer loping through the brush, clangs with the success of my union with a stone.

I see the deer stop, their tails, which had flicked up like white flames in their leaping to evade me, droop. The three turn their heads, two of them does, one a three-point buck, his antlers still furred. He snorts, asserting that it is he, not I, who is the warden of this neck of woods. One of the does dips her head to chew a leaf. I freeze in place, in communion with the deer. But they must have my scent, wind at my back. The buck turns head, leaps across a fallen ancient log as if he had the power of flight. The does follow and they are across to the other side of a ravine before I finish running my hand through my hair, to rest a palm against my neck.

I think if I did not have the woods to get off to I might be a madman. I know that sounds an exaggeration. But there comes a time when nothing else will do and if nothing else would do, could I do without? I am friendly should you happen to cross my way in these back woods — hello, howdy, how’s it going? But I’d rather you not be there, at that moment, coming round the bend. Perhaps you feel the same encountering me limping at you, your way. If I see you soon enough and far away, I’ll turn off the path, down a lesser path. Yes, that one less traveled by. It may or may not make any difference. I prefer the woods as empty of my species as possible, so I might spend time with the other ones. And with the spacious air, the hidden pockets, the usually unheard sounds of where the rest of what grows, grows.

If I go missing, that is where you’ll find me.

~ douglas imbrogno | jan. 1, 2013

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  1. My disability prevents my trekking, schlepping, or otherwise ambulating into the deeper woods. Instead, I drive to as obscure a retreat as possible, a place with as little infrastructure as possible and still drivable. There are no easy answers – only more questions. So it goes.

  2. Julie

    Beautiful, sir. Looks like someone has been W-SOB. Nicely done.