One fall afternoon, Jake drove me to the woods in his old Ford pickup. He took his bow and went looking for pheasant. He told me to stay by the truck or head out walking if I felt inclined, but I wasn’t to join him while he hunted. Being together, at least out there, wasn’t the point. I crouched quietly in the brush a few paces away from the truck but then moved to sit in the dirty cargo bed, my legs dangling down.
My body and my mind liked to move. I felt restless as I looked around.
Jake believed strongly in Mother Nature, her marijuana, and what the doctor had prescribed to control his Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. I didn’t know what I believed yet, but I loved thinking about the world with him, someone with whom I felt I could truly be myself. Together, we were philosophers who could talk for hours.
We met in a college poetry class. He was a reader, a writer, and a scruffy bass-player along with being an outdoorsman. Moreover, he was a curious observer who didn’t care what other people thought. I found him wise, strange, and unpredictable.
Meanwhile, I was a worrier who had sports to guide me and give me confidence throughout high school but needed to figure out who I was now. I loved college and the freedom I felt there but struggled without the parameters I was used to.
I watched the sun fade behind the rows of pine trees that late afternoon and waited for him to come back. As I did, my mind finally quieted. I could think. I could breathe.
Our friendship would get complicated over the next few years. There were many things we couldn’t give each other. Yet out there that day, he gave me his best therapy: his sanctuary. I would carry it with me along with his words whenever I felt anxious or aimless.
Twenty years later, I watch my kids hike, their little legs moving along the trails. Tall trees all above them, they jump over streams and collect unique-looking rocks. They become inquisitive, adventurous, alive. When we get home, they are covered in leaves and dirt. They sleep hard. This is how I give them the same advice. Find some woods, some wild to tame you.
I learned that Jake died last April. His boat flipped while he was fishing. Hypothermia. I keep picturing him paddling gently on the lake as the sun rose, and us together in the woods as the sun set.