The Wisest Use: Renewing Our Spirit

Jack Savage | September 15, 2012

At the polls earlier this week I stood outside for a moment absorbing the warmth of the sunny day. A neighbor and friend had just arrived to vote and we chatted, as most anyone might, about the stunningly beautiful weather. (I’ll call him Al, since that’s his name.) Al looked up at the sky and recalled that it was day that mirrored that day 11 years before when chaos reigned at the World Trade Center in New York City.

No doubt we all remember where we were on 9-11-01. Al told me about being in Newfoundland 11 years ago, where hundreds of transatlantic flights carrying thousands of passengers were directed when the U.S. closed its airspace entirely for the first time in 98 years. There the story became about the extraordinary hospitality of the “Newfies” as the welcomed strangers into their homes and makeshift shelters.

I was lucky enough to be working out of my home office and, like millions of others, spent the morning watching the chaos unfold on television. By mid-afternoon I’d seen enough and took a break, walking through the field and into the woods. I avoided the trail and weaved among the trees to a little opening in the middle of the forest, just big enough to let the sky in. I sat, then laid down looking up. I recall marveling at how incongruously peaceful it was. The absence of air traffic was noticeable, and thus brought into focus the outlines of oak leaves and branches against a bright sky.

For some people forests seem like frightening places—darkly shaded and rife with unknown dangers. We manage to let ourselves be afraid of everything from mosquitoes and ticks to the proverbial “lions and tigers and bears” of yellow brick road fame. It seems like every weekend someone proves that it’s not hard to get lost in a forest, leading some to fear just being in the woods.

But while it’s possible to get lost, it is also true that you can find yourself in a forest. You can shed yourself of the kinds of daily cares and worries that we let become too much of a burden. You can find perspective, maybe even see the forest for the trees.

We use forests for many things. The Forest Society’s mission statement talks about perpetuating New Hampshire’s forests through their “wise use”, by which we mean the sustainable use of the wood, water, air and recreation resources a forest provides. We rely on our forests for lumber to shelter us, to heat our homes, for paper to exchange news and views in this newspaper.

But there are times when the wisest use of the forest is as a place to renew our spirit. The forest is a place of quiet contemplation, removed from artificial noise, political harangue and the barrage of commercialism. A place where you can breathe deep and be only who you want to be in that moment, for the trees won’t fawn over your accomplishments nor judge you for your failures. But, if you watch and listen, they will teach you how, even as they strive to race each other toward that sunny sky, it is possible to find contentment in simple existence. Hugging them in thanks is entirely optional.

Jack Savage is the editor of Forest Notes, New Hampshire’s Conservation Magazine published by the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests. He can be reached at