Adjacent to the parking lot of our condominium building, sat a clump of pine trees with fine, green needles and dripping sap. The landscapers planted the trees in such a way that, once grown, they formed a canopy above a small, oval opening. If one looked hard enough, and squinted against the sunlight, one might see it.
As kids, my neighbor, Michelle and I, discovered this opening and it became my favorite place to retreat from pesky siblings and the heat of summer. In our hideaway, I sat on a bed of dried pine needles, the scent of sap rising around me as I crushed the needles beneath my weight. I imagined myself invisible to the real world, hidden in a land far away.
Sometimes, I brought snacks or a pencil and notebook and hid them beneath the canopy. Other times, I cleared the space of broken sticks, and created little vignettes of broken flower stems or needle piles, acorns or pebbles.
A few years after making this space our own, Michelle and I discovered someone else had found it as well. They left crushed cans and open condom wrappers in their wake. They scattered trash and made a mess of the little bit of beauty we tried to create.
We found another spot to create a new world, near a small, dry ditch with honeysuckle dripping over it. There was a bed of moss I lovingly sprayed with water to create a carpet of leprechaun green. We arranged stones set in patterns, and lined sticks up beside one another to create plates, with acorns piled on top to eat.
Michelle looked for turtles and salamanders in the ditch, while I pretended I lived in a world of Lilliputian size covered with dense moss, a world colored green.
We outgrew this place, and began exploring the nearby woods, but with time, the woods became too small to contain the real world crowding in around us. I stopped using the natural world as my place of imagination and adventure, and instead, I dove deep into the world of books again and again.
Those carefree days of childhood are the color of moss and bark. They smell like fresh pine and book spines and sunshine. My childhood world offered me a place of order and creativity, a place where beauty could and would thrive. There was a right-ness to this world. A sense of belonging.
As an adult, I’ve wanted to recapture this feeling, this bone-deep craving for something I couldn’t seem to name. The Germans have a word for this called “sehnsucht”. There is no English equivalent, but it’s a word that describes yearning, intensely missing, incompleteness, a longing.
I’ve looked to nature, to scripture, to stories, to homemaking, to writing–all in an effort to uncover the deeper pining. As I’ve returned to those halcyon days in my mind, I’ve realized the deeper longing filling my heart are twin desires for beauty and for belonging.
My childhood allowed me to seek beauty and belonging in the most imaginative places, but adulthood brings with it the complications of real life. Others step in and spoil our quiet places. Circumstances trash the world we imagined as pure and lovely. Beauty is hard to uncover in the midst of failure or relational difficulties. Belonging feels foreign in times of transition or uncertainty.
But, naming the longing is a beginning. It is wiping the chalkboard clean of everything that distracts me, and returning to my first love. The soft carpet of pine needles like a dream laid beneath my feet, the creative impulse free of boundaries, the stories woven into the fabric of my memory, the opportunity for creating a rich inner and outer world through beauty—these are still available to me.
The past decade has been one of re-discovery, of following the trail of crumbs left behind by longing. I am learning new ways of creating beauty and seeking belonging, but the seeds sown in my childhood have become rooted in the fresh and wild landscape of middle age. Like pine and honeysuckle and moss, they are alive–verdant and blooming.