A Year of Picnics (Roost Books) is a wonderful piece of literature regarding picnics. A picnic sited in the woods is a wonderful opportunity to celebrate change. There are the Walt Whitman lines in “Song of Myself” that I have long loved: “Do I contradict myself? / Very well then I contradict myself, / (I am large, I contain multitudes.)” The forest changes, as do we. We learn to bend in the wind like the tree, or to break instead. Not only is a wooded setting simply a lovely location to enjoy a meal, it’s a living “school” of sorts, with so many lessons about life on offer.
The woods have always been home to me. There was the first time I saw the Ewok village in the film Return of the Jedi when I was seven years old, when I told my young self, silently, that I would love to live somewhere similar. There’s the street I lived on from ages eight to twelve in Chesapeake, Virginia—Forest Road—and the woods I played in there. There’s the converted tobacco barn in the deeply wooded town of Montreat, North Carolina, that my mother, brother, and I called home for a far-too-brief seven months.
Later, in my early twenties, a former boyfriend and I shared a home in Weaverville, North Carolina, lovingly crafted by his father over the course of ten years, composed entirely of a wooden interior gleaned from trees on their forested acreage. Now, there’s the wooded cove I call home in Candler, North Carolina, adjacent to a 300-plus acres of heavily forested nature preserve. Finally, there’s my son, Huxley, whose name translates to both “woodsman” and “a clearing in a forest.” The woods and I, we’re tethered to each other, it would seem.
I think what speaks to me the most about wooded environments are their natural, inherent tendencies toward change. Emergence, growth, decay, and renewal are what enable them to thrive, to adapt, to endure. There is no stasis in the woods. They are always in flux, no matter how slowly. I often feel the same way—unfixed, fluid, adapting to whatever the day or occasion brings— so that I too might persevere and grow.
To Make & Do:
Select a site
This picnic is all about forests and wooded areas. Choose your picnicking site with that at the forefront of your mind. Private land owned by you or your friends or family, state or national parks, forested areas on college campuses—any of these areas would be ideal candidates for an Into the Woods Picnic.
Make rock stacks
The picnic area shown in these photographs is home to a large number of rock stacks, also known as cairns. I don’t know who originally created them, but they have been there for years. The mystery surrounding their creation gives them an added allure, allowing one to wonder, if you’re at all like me, whether it was even human hands that stacked them in the first place. If your wooded area is home to a creek or otherwise populated by rocks, consider creating a rock stack of your own. If it stands the test of time and weather, it will be an unexpected yet welcome sight to anyone who encounters it.
Build fairy houses
There is a folk myth that persists globally about the existence of fairies. Tiny beings responsible for helping nature hum along on schedule, fairies are believed to be a bit shy, and often just out of human viewing. While picnicking, consider building homes for these diminutive, beneficial creatures. Sticks, stones, moss, flowers, leaves, or any other bits of natural ephemera all work equally well for festooning and decorating.
To Behold & Explore
Early spring would be a lovely time to have a wooded picnic. The poison ivy, bugs, and humidity are still a ways off, the mornings are cool, and the sun isn’t terribly punishing just yet. On your way to your picnicking site, and once you arrive, take note of what’s emerging. On branches, out of the soil, on creek banks—and all around really—will be buds, flowers, mushrooms, and many other signs of spring’s emerging from her wintertime slumber.
Beauty in decay
It’s inevitable that, at some point during your time in the forest, you’ll find a fallen tree, if not many. Wind, snow, lightning, disease, insects, and beavers can all bring down a tree. While it might at first seem like a loss for such a wooded heavyweight to have fallen, dead trees are actually teeming with life. Decomposers like bacteria, fungi, and worms move in, gaining nourishment from the tree, while other creatures such as foxes use it as shelter. During your picnic, take a moment to appreciate the beauty and bounty manifest in decay. The wheel of life is round, with today’s life feeding tomorrow’s.