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We all have a “Forest wild”—or should. This is a place in nature where you can go to retreat, reflect . . . and (hopefully) recharge your spirit. Unfortunately far too many people lose their wild places because they don’t prioritize time spent in nature.
They live in the city and can’t make time to find a park where they can walk every day. They’re busy raising children, running errands and commuting to work. But you can find a forest wild place in your world. It is a place where you go to observe subtle changes that are happening in nature. The virtues of solo walks became crystal clear to me after COVID.
I was lucky to live for 27 years in Boyds, Maryland. My family’s home nestled up to Black Hills Regional Park. And so I would go for woodland walks as often as possible during the years when I was running my company and raising my two children.
I found my walks in the park were a way to solve problems, disconnect from the stress and lose myself. Somehow walking briskly in the forest seems to erase my mind’s chalkboard. I find that I can easily solve problems that perplexed me and work out any emotional issues that worry me.
“There is good evidence that exercise behaves like medicine to improve brain health and thinking skills. There is a growing body of science behind this.”—Dr. Scott McGinnis, assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.
Listen to Book Tapes
I also developed a habit of listening to book tapes while I took my morning walks in Black Hills Regional Park. My favorite Audible book was a recitation of Emily Dickinson’s poetry. The actress Julie Harris read the poems. (She portrayed Dickinson in “The Belle of Amherst,” which is a one-woman play by William Luce.)
I still can remember exactly the places where I walked in the woods as I listened to favorite lines from Emily Dickinson. My first memory of a sunrise at Black Hills Lake is forever linked to this beloved poem:
“I’ll tell you how the Sun rose –
A Ribbon at a time –
The Steeples swam in Amethyst –
The news, like Squirrels, ran –
The Hills untied their Bonnets –
The Bobolinks – begun –
Then I said softly to myself –
That must have been the Sun!”—Emily Dickinson
And so as I pass the shores of the Black Hills lake, watching the tender fingers of the sun’s rays stretch across the sapphire blue sky above me, I whisper to the recluse poet—”Yes it is the sun greeting me!”
Voyage of Purist Discovery
I marvel to watch the world wake up in a forest wild. My friends, the squirrels, know that I want to follow them. I sing along with Bobolinks who serenade me. Climbing the road, I turn left onto the forest path.
Ahead I see the sign that declares what awaits me. It also makes my heart jump for joy whenever I see it. It reads: “You can take a walk around this trail and turn it into a voyage of purist discovery.”
Seclusion in the Woods
Truly I can’t say enough about the time that I spend in seclusion in the woods. I come here to disappear in the groves of trees. The idea is not a brisk walk, but rather to dally for a period (which could be as short as 30 minutes). I want to observe each of the sensory changes which accompany a period spent in a forest.
Typically, I like to meander along the paths, stopping in front of favorite trees. I rest my face against a gnarled trunk. My hand strokes a branch that reaches out to me. I rub my nose into a leaf. My ears tune into the tiny noises surrounding me—a squirrel darting up a tree, a bird trilling, a deer running in the distance.
Breathe in the Earth
This is when I take time to breathe in the earth, the moldering leaves, the wild herbs. It smells pungent in a forest. I find it bracing, like the hard pelts of rain on your head during a storm or the wind’s icy touch during the winter.
Our forests are a place of inclusion which our world so desperately needs in these troubling times. To quote Henry David Thoreau, “For I’d rather be thy child And pupil, in the Forest wild, Than be the king of men elsewhere.”
I too must go into the “woods, with leafy din,” to find myself.
If you’re lucky like me, you will discover a place where you can sit in a tree on a low-hanging branch and rest your back against its wide trunk. I like to burrow as deep inside the tree as possible so I am hidden from view.
Then I turn my eyes skyward and stare into the crown of the tree. This is also a splendid time if you have a favorite meditation tape to turn it on. You can drift away from your current preoccupations in your forest wild.
Shut My Eyes
Then my favorite thing is to shut my eyes tight. I sit very quietly on that tree branch (or the ground underneath the tree) and simply slow down, ease into quietude. Taking a long measured breath, I slowly inhale, then exhale and repeat. This is how I can tune into my senses in my forest wild.
I usually try to keep my eyes closed for at least five minutes. This gives me sufficient time to turn off my monkey brain (that wants to jump around chaotically from one distracting thought to another) and really focus on being in the woods. I try very hard to listen to nature.
My goal is to engage each of my senses by individually concentrating on an activity. I hold a leaf in my hand, deliberately rubbing my thumb against its waxy surface. Then I breathe in deeply to smell the wet moss on the tree trunk. I hear the symphony of the red cardinals performing in the tree tops while I might taste a raindrop on my tongue.
My motive is to temporarily blind myself. I want to force my other senses to come to the forefront by deliberately not allowing myself to see my surroundings. In order to smell, I must burrow my nose into a leaf. This means I need to lean into a branch to get up close to the leaves.
Shock My Senses
I take a long gulp of forest air, a perfume so sweet that no factory could duplicate it. And finally after I have spent minutes immersed in the forest, I like to pop my eyes open and look up toward the sky.
It is a technicolor color that is rendered in front of me. The trees look more vibrant that any Cezanne painting in my forest wild. A kaleidoscope of colors—Dartmouth green, moss green, pine green, fern green—swirl in front of my eyes. And the shock to my system of the awe and wonder which I feel is extreme.
My time spent at Black Hills Regional Park rejuvenated me. To quote Thoreau, “I took a walk in the woods and came out taller than the trees.”
Located in Boyds, Maryland, Black Hills Regional Park spreads over 2,000 acres. It offer wild spaces as well as pristine picnic areas with green space with a dog run, fishing pier and boat rentals, plus trails, playgrounds and picnic shelters. There is a Visitors Center which at some point will resume a variety of nature programs and interpretative tours that highlight the natural and historical resources of this park, such as a naturalist-led tour on the pontoon boat Kingfisher. Montgomery County Parks are working towards entering Phase 2.
There are many resources to locate a “Forest wild” near you. I recommend www.FindYourPark.com which allows you to search by your zip code for parks near you.