I spent my birthday in the woods.

For my 50th story on Medium, I’m excited to reminisce about my third birthday in quarantine. Three birthdays ago, March 2020, I was so afraid. We barely knew anything about COVID19, and I had no idea the insurmountable change that was on its way into my life.

I had never spent a birthday alone and had no idea how to live independently of someone. So this year, I showed up for myself and made plans to treat myself to some very “on brand” activities.

I am very fortunate to have a secluded creek not too far from my home; steep slopes lead to a quiet babble of water. There’s a lot of deer poop, sometimes a few ducks, especially now, many green buds sprouting up along the banks.

It’s quiet and not too far from the road, so I feel safe if I fall or get hurt. This makes me feel even more confident traipsing around in this public area since few folks bother to climb down to the water. It’s always been worth the trek to me.

I haven’t been hiking much in the past year, and my stamina certainly isn’t what it used to be. But I felt SO strong with my backpack and walking stick. It made me feel so good.

I fucking love the woods. I love the woods in the spring, in my birth month, because it’s so easy to spot new growth. I love seeing green, purple, and red buds begin to pop against the mud. Growing up, I’d always joke that March is an excellent time for birthdays because the weather is always crappy.

This year on my birthday, the sun was shining. It was 50 degrees Fahrenheit and not too muddy that I couldn’t safely clamber down the hillside to reach the creek. I enjoy hiking and haven’t been out much since my top surgery last year, which was my birthday present.

This time last year, I was in rough shape, but it was for the better. I had no upper body strength but couldn’t have been happier with my new flat chest.

This year I was inspired to go out into the woods for a few reasons: I wanted to spend some time out of the house if the weather would permit, I wanted to collect some moss for a terrarium idea I had, and I knew being near the running water would put me in a good mood. (running water is proven to help regulate emotions etc.)

There were a lot of feelings running through my body as I descended the slopes into the woods. I turned off my headphones and enjoyed the birds calling over my head as it got quieter. I listened to the squirrels scattering their food in the leaf clutter and watched a few snails move slowly underwater.

As a kid, whenever I was overwhelmed, I’d make my way to the lake at a local park. Spending time watching fish, turtles, frogs helped me clear my head. I was homeschooled and spent a lot of my time outside because I was curious and didn’t enjoy being confined indoors with an extensive and loud family. (not their fault, I have sensory issues).

I grew up riding my bike for hours around town, to different swamps, lakes, and parks. I was always looking for somewhere quiet, where it would just be me and whatever critters inhabited the space. I loved studying my biology books about ecosystems, giving names to the creatures I could see flitting through the water and grass.

It felt so good to go back to the dirt, to dig up clay for the terrarium. It felt so fucking good to be outside. It’s been so cold; it’s been months since I enjoyed more than 20 minutes outdoors. It was the perfect birthday activity because I was on my own, not worried about anyone else having a good time. No one was waiting for me, bothering me, and I was just there to do anything and nothing.

I built the terrarium with my birthday magic, setting intentions for pleasure, play, and connection in this next phase of my life. Of course, everything will be more challenging, but I am more equipped than ever to handle these challenges.

Even in this past week, there have been multiple invitations for a full-blown meltdown, and I was able to regulate myself through the experience and recognize the luck I was carrying. A flat tire spared me a potential accident on the highway, an event getting canceled that allowed me to readjust my schedule to goat sit for my neighbors.

As I rehabilitate my codependent issues and people-pleasing tactics, it feels like a superpower to go out and make plans with myself. Spending time alone has never been a challenge, but enjoying it can be tricky if I’m worried or guilt myself for taking such a long time to take a break.

Well, this week, I’m taking multiple days off for my birthday. To rest, work less, and play outside (once the rain clears up).

It felt good to be in the woods on my birthday. It felt right. I’m excited to do it again soon.

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Liz Brinks

Liz Brinks

Hey, I’m Liz Brinks (they/them) I’m a queer gender-non-conforming writer, business coach & cat-parent (@itsjuustliz everywhere) based out of Wisconsin!