To be fair, sometimes I run, which has its own merits and joys and reasons, some of which are the same as walking in the woods. But when I slow down to a walk, when I take the time to really notice what’s going on, things come to light that wouldn’t otherwise. Here are some reasons why I walk in the woods, reasons that came to light, just today.
Reason One: I can see the tiny orange mushrooms that have taken up residence on the tops of three fallen oaks, enormous trees that crashed to earth years ago, that are now, in death, covered with soft green moss, craggy looking mint-green lichen, and these tiny orange mushrooms that look like they are just waiting for fairies to arrive for a festival of aliveness and wonder.
Reason Two: I can taste wild blackberries, the ones whose brambles tower high over my head and hang heavy with fruit in the late summer. There are more berries here than any one creature needs, and fingers stained purple, I eat a handful and pocket another for later. They taste like sunlight and wild nectar and joy in tiny black offerings.
Reason Three: I can hear a breeze, the one that’s been dormant these last few stagnant days, rustling leaves on the mighty Maples of this forest, and it’s like I am listening to a great chorus of gentle giants celebrating what life is like in the canopy.
Reason Four: I can feel the many feet of a tiny caterpillar, one I’ve let crawl up my arm as I sit on an old stump by the lake, a tiny tickle on my skin as the fuzzy black, yellow, and white being makes his own path on this new territory that is me. Exploration complete after a few minutes, he steps off my arm, and I watch him make his way down the side of the stump and into the tall grass that leads him toward whatever comes next when you are a caterpillar in an August woodland.
Reason Five: I can smell the earthy loam under my feet, the musty aroma of the lake, the sharp scent of hot pine needles, the deep richness that is last year’s leaves mixed with the moisture the forest floor produces in abundance, the hint of rain in the atmosphere, the way quickly running water of a tiny creek carries with it coolness that reminds me how refreshment can sneak up on a person via any of the senses, and the salt in my own tears that seem to well up from somewhere unknown. After enough time as passed, the scent of wildness and my humanness melt together, and the woods and I remember we are part of the same body.
Ross Gay says, “Is sorrow the true wild?
And if it is—and if we join them—your wild to mine—what’s that?
For joining, too, is a kind of annihilation.
What if we joined our sorrows, I’m saying.
I’m saying: What if that is joy?”
I walk in the woods to remember to be alive with my whole self, to join those thickets of dense, seemingly inaccessible wild that live in each of us as sorrow, with something deeper than what I can access on my own.
That is why I walk in the woods.