Hiding in the Woods

What’s out there waiting for us?

Mike Paulus, illustrated by Shannon Sorenson

There are a good many things hidden out in the woods of Wiscosnin. Old things. The things we’ve forgotten. The things we’ve stopped caring about. But new things, too. The things we keep private. The things we keep to ourselves.

No judgement here. Privacy is precious. And in the woods there are trees to keep the quiet and a soft breeze to hush the scuffling animals.

Out in the woods right now, hulking in the shadows, farm machinery is bound to the earth by generations of wild grass, crumbling to rust and ruin, always watching pockets of sunlight slip across the forest floor. The machinery broke down. Became dead weight. Its helpfulness is lost forever.

Nearby stand the ghosts of small buildings, their stone foundations tracing tidy squares in the underbrush. The old house. The old shed. The root cellar. Great grandma grew up here. Out in the woods, along the fields.

The roads off the main highway run deep into the woods. When you drive back far enough, there are weeds growing in the blacktop. The road split open in the early 1980s. First from too much use. And then from not enough.

People live out here, where the trees have come creeping across the cow pastures and the potato patches. Out here, a long, skinny trailer house sits behind a rotting wooden fence. Someone went outside to fasten mismatched aluminum siding over some of the windows. The roof is bad. The steps are bad. They nail their deer antlers to a tree by the road.

Someone tossed an acid-green sleeping bag over the crooked fence. Maybe it was left out to dry. But then it rained.

There’s a horse out there. It’s lumbering around the muddy yard, all boney at the shoulders. It looks lost, munching grass by the gate. A ten-year-old Mitsubishi hatchback sits waiting in the driveway.

Everything hiding out in the woods seems to settle into place. It curves down into the low spots. Rarely does it snap in half. Mostly, it softens and bends.

But out in the woods there’s a white pine tree with the biggest, strongest trunk you’ve ever seen.

And out in the woods you can find snug little beds pressed into the brown pine needles where some deer had curled up to sleep. You can kneel down and push your hand against the bottom, and sometimes it’s still warm.

In the late afternoon, you can squeeze through a thicket and stumble onto a hillside absolutely packed with tiny white flowers and you can whisper, “How in the hell did all this get here?”

Out in the woods, when the sky is dark and night is coming, the wind stops blowing and everything grows still. You look around, and up above an owl glides through the branches, steady as death, before it disappears into the canopy.

And hiding out in the woods is the place your dad said he wished he’d done a better job. And this is where you told him to knock it off, because he’d done just fine. But back then you were too young to understand how we all wish we’d done a better job. Always. And sometimes you just need to say it out loud.

Out in the woods you can find that old farm machinery and those old foundations surrounded by generations of discarded gas cans and frying pans, and instead of seeing junk you can see into a different world. Like something wants to reveal itself.

Right in that spot. Just for you. And only for today.