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first person

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Illustration by Mary Kirkpatrick

I live on a 54-acre property in Ontario that I have always (until now) been just a little afraid of. My husband and I bought our parcel of forest 17 years ago when buying “property” wasn’t a thing. We moved up (as you do) from a 12-acre property. Having a large buffer has always been important to both of us as we are sensitive folk and need space and quiet and nature to focus. We were also into the homesteading thing (before it was a thing as well) and land is required if you want to homestead.

I never quite had the time to explore this land. I remember being deeply inspired by the land when we first bought the place. Then life happened. There were children and home-schooling and making and touring my art exhibitions and running a little art school out of my studio and teaching at Haliburton School of Art and Design in the summer. There were bears and moose and wolves and the trails were confusing. Our property is attached to over 2000 acres of crown land so getting lost in the woods is a real thing though I always felt comfortable walking in the forest with my husband by my side.

We had a tornado whip through our property about 10 years ago and lost hundreds of trees (many falling on our driveway) and the trails we had been using became jumbled with rows of trees that had fallen in lines like giant toothpicks.

A couple of years after that I hurt my foot and spent a long time walking with a bone that had gone rogue and eventually got taken out (which meant I didn’t walk at all for a time). Then my parents required downsizing from a very large condo, to a very small retirement home apartment to two even smaller rooms in a very good nursing home.

I got tired.

I stopped everything.

Life was quiet for a while.

That’s when I discovered my forest. My footprints in the snow could always be found and lead me back to my home just like Hansel and Gretel. In the springtime, I fell in love with a deeply politically incorrect item: a leaf blower. Forgive me! Leaf blowers are stupid in the city. I get it. But when you live on a large property and have tons of leaves that bring tons of mosquitoes and you are getting quite old and cannot handle raking for weeks and weeks; a leaf blower is okay. Actually, it is magnificent as it helps create trails and is loud enough to keep bears away at the same time.

My leaf blower has opened up my forest and made me feel safe. I have discovered marvellous things. Lichen is one of them. And moss. And mushrooms. But mostly I have discovered trees.

There are a few areas in my forest that are particularly mysterious. There is the “Cathedral,” which is what I call a grouping of large trees that look like a family perched on the edge of a ravine and near a spectacular display of quartz. I have the Grotto, which is nestled in the root system of a particularly large fallen-down tree. And there is the hemlock forest. Hemlocks exude some sort of essence that makes other plants not want to grow around them. That means there is space to walk around in and feel these trees. And I do feel them. They feel like friends.

I am drawn to the circle I call “the Ladies.” One of the trees is stooped and sways subtly toward the others. These trees aren’t perfect looking. Or even in a perfect circle. And one of them is clearly dead. But they are strong and gentle and helpful to each other and lately, they have been reminding me of my women friends. Women friends are essential. Especially when you reach my age. When you are 60 you have lived through a lot. Women friends carry you through. Just like the trees.

One of my female friends (who has been through her own set of traumas) told me she is becoming “full on.” And I have noticed she isn’t the only one. “Full on” means being wacky and owning whatever at this later stage you are interested in and then climbing into that wild basket.

I have women friends who are studying astrology hard core and others who are studying past lives and listening to podcasts about mediums. I have some friends who collect photographs of the dead. I have friends who ran off to Iqaluit to run a college in the middle of winter and others who are writing novels about sex after menopause. I have friends who purchased houses on Fogo Island and others who moved to the East Coast to become printmakers. I have women friends who are starting up homemade pasta companies with special flour they have imported from Italy from their retro kitchens and others who are obsessed with taking photographs of their fresh compost heaps (while teaching film editing at university) or making crazy wild felted cuffs.

The list goes on.

I love my women friends. They are there to catch me with an intricate web of female strength that feels similar to my circle of hemlock trees. I noticed it recently, during my yearly Mother’s Day cry when walking in the forest. I cried only for a tiny bit that day amidst bouts of total happiness and Kawartha Dairy Ice Cream (Gold Medal Ribbon and Wolf Paws).

Now when I go to visit my hemlock forest I immediately think of my women friends and how they are there to catch me (and vice versa). And I feel secure.

Women and trees. And mushrooms and fungus and moss and flowers and lichen.

Full-on love is a beautiful thing.

Michele Karch-Ackerman lives in Buckhorn, Ont.

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