The forest has saved my year. When the pandemic hit all the public indoor spaces closed. We were driven out of the restaurants, the gym, the store-as-entertainment. Where to go to get out of the house? Outside! Our Washington state home is zoned urban but surrounded by green. Our yard connects with county land. Hawks and eagles swoop in from the nature preserve across the highway, neighborhood yards are habitat for local woodland animals. I scheduled a daily “sit outside” notice on the calendar and dragged the family out to look at the hawks and the squirrels and the trees.
At the beginning of the pandemic my coven retreated to Zoom. We held a weekly get-together from Spring Equinox to Beltane. We even threw a Beltane party online. Zoom fatigue set in just as the weather opened up. Washington state maintains 100 parks. They’re all pockets of natural beauty, many on bays and rivers and lakes, spreading across meadows or tucked into stretches of forest. Five of them are within half an hour of my house. I closed down the Zoom and put State Park Wednesday on our calendar.
The state parks have parking places and picnic shelters and restrooms. These facilities make it possible to meet people outside our quarantine pod. I realized I could rent a campsite for a day so we could put out lawn chairs and bring the dogs.
As the summer went on we started doing ritual out there too. My magical community is composed of people Witches and Pagans and Ceremonial Magicians and those of us who are all of them at once. We have a decades-old Northwest practice of holding large festivals at state park group camps. For everyday rituals though we meet indoors, holding ceremonies and coven meetings in temples large and small, calling on the magic of the elements without braving them.
When COVID protocols shuttered the large temples and made house temples off limits to anyone outside our quarantine teams, the parks gave us space to gather. This year I’ve done Kemetic rites in picnic shelters and Witchcraft circles in campsites. In these spaces the elements aren’t just a symbol set, we connect with their raw power. Calling the wind with the wind in my face is exhilarating, calling the earth while stamping on actual dirt is thunderous, calling on the gods while the creatures of the earth surround me reminds me that our work grounds in the natural world. Reconnecting with magic among the trees has been one of the bright spots of the year.
This was easier in the summer when there are reliably sunny days. Fall and winter in the Northwest involve a lot of rain, and November through January the sun sets before five. As the winter pandemic surge crests over us even meeting outside seems scary. Group meetings have relocated to Zoom.
Even so I spend more time outdoors. I meet a friend in the park across from his house. Both of us have invested in portable weather pods; we set them up twenty feet apart and sit in our lap blankets and our long johns. It means a lot to us to continue to connect in person.
Not every day is rainy. Some state park campgrounds stay open year round and sites are available on a first come first serve basis. On a sunny day I can zip out to the state park half an hour away to do my daily practice. The campground is quiet and only a few RVs park out there at this time of year. It’s a good place to chant and meditate. I look up at the branches and breathe the green air. I notice where the roots lift up out of the ground, a visible sign of the vast root network deep in the soil stretching beneath me like a net. All the trees are connected, communicate with each other, nurture each other. Sitting among the trees I am sheltered, surrounded, supported. The forest takes me in.
I’ve already booked a campsite for the first possible reservation date in May. Eventually the temples will open up, probably before the rains set in again next winter. When it’s easy to meet inside again I hope we’ll remember what a joy it is to do magic outdoors and spend at least some of our time together among the trees. That’s one pandemic change I hope is permanent. Throughout the pandemic the forest has been my salvation.