Why I Wander In The Woods

I need a place where I can hide under the canopy of trees. As a child, the woods were my place to escape and daydream. My spirit always yearns to dwell in nature’s outdoor cathedrals—places of soaring sky, rough-hewn bark and dew-kissed leaves. Sitting on the velvet carpet of grass, surrounded by tree roots, twigs and sticks, I can connect with the wilderness.

For 27 years, while I lived in Boyds in upper Montgomery County, Maryland, I had a place of solitude on my doorsteps. While some of my neighbors never even ventured to walk in this park, it was my sanctuary. I went there to recharge my spirits as well as temporarily forget the burdens of work.

My favorite activity was walking the park trails for miles while listening to a audio recording of The Poetry of Emily Dickinson recited by Julie Harris. An accomplished classical as well as contemporary actress, Harris became the voice of my favorite poet. Like Dickinson, I have met a narrow Fellow in the grass:

“Several of Nature’s People
I know, and they know me
I feel for them a transport
Of Cordiality.”—Emily Dickinson

Escaping to the woodland paths that snaked among the groves of oaks, elms and birches that hunkered down in these 2,000 acres now saved as a park was how I recharged my mind and heart. I knew I would not meet even one person at 8 am on a workday but I would never be alone thanks to the deer that roamed the hilly glen and the occasional eagle that flew overhead. If I was quiet, my friends in the forest came out to greet me—the squirrels ran up to trunk to leap on a branch and stare down at me, the cardinal might sing a lilting aria for my lone amusement. And depending on the season, I would watch a ballet performed on this outdoor stage as daffodils rose up on pointe in the spring or the ancient tree bowed down his branches under a blanket of snow at wintertide.

“I have a room all to myself; it is Nature.”—Henry David Thoreau

Unless you know the connection that the human yearns to find in the wild places of nature, it might seem illogical to waste a weekend to hike in the woods. But I know the forest as a place of discovery.

“True solitude is found in the wild places, where one is without human obligation. One’s inner voices become audible… In consequence, one responds more clearly to other lives. In consequence, one responds more clearly to other lives. The more coherent one becomes within oneself as a creature, the more fully one enters into the communion of all creatures.”—Wendell Berry

There is something so steadying about touching the rough tree bark of an 80-year-old tree in the woods and looking into the wide-stretched branches of this senior statesman. He does not rail like King Lear in dementia. The decades-old tree just stands strong among the island of smaller trees surrounding him and silently accepts a hug or the pat of a child’s tiny hand.

So like Berry who regrets leaving the woods and loss of its restfulness, I urge you this holiday weekend to get out of the malls and go walk in the woods.

Today I will return to Black Hills Regional Park on a nostalgic hike through my beloved woods. Then I will go to my son’s house to eat too much turkey and pumpkin pie. I will join friends on Black Friday for a Wilderness Walk organized by Washington Walks. On Saturday I will take out my map of Rock Creek Park to discover new sections of the Western Trail.

Happy Thanksgiving!

P.S. Do you have a special forest or park where you go to recharge? Comments (or emails) are welcome!

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