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 is 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 stress, and lose myself. Somehow walking briskly in the forest seems to erase my mind’s chalkboard. I realize 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, Harvard Medical School
Spending time in the woods is as necessary as breathing; my spirit needs to immerse itself in the grove of trees and smell the pungent fir trees. You can even take a class to learn more about forest bathing.
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 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 Bobolink who serenades 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 my 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, and 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 the author of Walden:
For I’d rather by thy child and pupil, in the Forest wild, than be the king of men elsewhere.”Henry David Thoreau
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, and 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 treetops 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 than 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 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 offers 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.
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MayiFebruary 11, 2023 at 11:50 am
While reading this reminded me of the Japanese concept of shinrin-yoku or forest bathing. Walking in a park or forest and connecting with what’s around you is so relaxing. Like you, I love closing my eyes and listening to my surroundings.
TerriFebruary 11, 2023 at 2:39 pm
Yes I had written a separate post about my first experience with Forest Bathing through a class at the Smithsonian. I now regularly look for the opportunity in unique places such as the National Arboretum in Washington DC.
Laureen LundFebruary 11, 2023 at 12:41 pm
A lovely read. We love to hike and walk and “forest bathing” has become a new concept for us. Thanks for sharing.
TerriFebruary 11, 2023 at 2:37 pm
I had never heard of forest bathing until four years ago but I have been doing it my whole life. But I do love the ceremonies associated with a guided forest bathing class, as learned at the Smithsonian.
AnnieFebruary 11, 2023 at 1:24 pm
I love being out in the wilds – even ordinary countryside is better than nothing. Perhaps I’m more inclined to the coast than the woods, but then, I’ve nearly always lived close enough to the coast to enjoy it. And yes, alone is often better than with company, as the company usually wants to go at a different speed. Or maybe I just don’t get enough alone time. One thing where we really differ, is that I’ve never been able to listen to music or radio or books while outside. I want to hear the natural sounds, whether birds, insects, or even just the breeze through the leaves. Music is for indoors on dark winter evenings.
TerriFebruary 11, 2023 at 2:36 pm
I also love to hike in my wild place with no audio. It depends on my mood. My favorite magical time is to hike after the first snow in Maryland so I found here the snow crunch under my boots and hear the wind whistle through the trees.
JasminaFebruary 11, 2023 at 1:39 pm
This is one of the best reads I’ve had in the last few weeks. I’m lucky that I live in a country full of parks, forests and nature, but still, I don’t find enough time to go to my “wild place”. I’m aware that I must change this because I know how good it feels when I spend time there. Thanks for sharing and reminding me!
TerriFebruary 11, 2023 at 2:34 pm
This makes me so happy to read. I hope I inspire you to find a wild place that you visit regularly. I think time in the woods is the best way to recharge our batteries.
CosetteFebruary 13, 2023 at 7:54 am
I go for a walk (almost) every day, just in my neighborhood, and I love it. I recharge and see indeed the nature changing. The last weeks there have been snowdrops everywhere. I love seeing those.
TerriFebruary 17, 2023 at 8:48 pm
This is fantastic! One of the best things about being a dog owner is you have to get outside several times a day!
AlannaFebruary 11, 2023 at 3:06 pm
What a peaceful, restorative experience. I find nature walks to be just what the doctor ordered most of the time!
TerriFebruary 11, 2023 at 3:36 pm
I think therapists even give prescriptions for a Nature Walk to their patients!
AdaFebruary 11, 2023 at 4:47 pm
Yes, time outside is so restorative. I’m glad you have a place nearby where you can regularly “forest bathe.”
TerriFebruary 11, 2023 at 5:43 pm
I don’t live there anymore. But I make a point to drive to Rock Creek Park and other green spaces near Washington DC to get my nature fix!
HeatherFebruary 11, 2023 at 5:29 pm
I love this post especially because this is just the experience I am seeking in the world right now, and you’ve beautifully connected us to it. Sounds like an idyllic place to grow up.
TerriFebruary 11, 2023 at 5:42 pm
I was pretty lucky to raise my kids in the country but still liveless than a 45-minute drive from Washington DC. I love my park so much. I wouldn’t see anyone on my weekday early morning walks except the deer!
Margarita SteinhardtFebruary 11, 2023 at 5:51 pm
I completely agree that we all should have our own ‘forest wild’ to unwind, re-center, and here ourselves think. I find that if I don’t get away from the buzz of the city and spend a day on the coast or in the mountains every week or two, I turn into a stress pot.
TerriFebruary 11, 2023 at 7:09 pm
I am exactly the same way. Every weekend, I pack my Golden Retriever in the Suburu and we had for the forest or the National Arboretum. I just need a couple of hours to hike in the woods and I can feel myself my body and spirit come into equilibrium!
AlexandraFebruary 11, 2023 at 7:26 pm
Reading this post was so therapeutic! I love how you describe being out in the forest and smelling the fresh air!
TerriFebruary 11, 2023 at 8:51 pm
I am so happy that I gave you the sensation of being in the forest and experiencing all the sights and sounds. It is so therapeutic!
ErinFebruary 11, 2023 at 9:17 pm
I loved this article. Black Hills Park looks beautiful, and I especially enjoyed reading about the hidden place. I plan to save this article for a future trip!
TerriFebruary 12, 2023 at 5:58 am
This makes me happy! Read my post right before you head out to the park to hike in the woods. And remember to use all your senses to experience it!
KimFebruary 11, 2023 at 9:56 pm
My “forest wild” is the Redwood forest in Rotorua. There is nothing like nature to replenish and regenerate the body and soul. Thanks for reminding me of that.
TerriFebruary 12, 2023 at 5:58 am
You are so lucky to have your wild place to spend time with nature and nourish your spirit. We all need a reminder to get out of house and spend time in the woods.
StephanieFebruary 11, 2023 at 10:26 pm
Black Hills Park looks like a lovely park to explore! It’s so lush and I love that sign! I wish all trails had poetic signs like that!
TerriFebruary 12, 2023 at 5:56 am
I always feel like I am entering a secret grove when I see this sign upon entering the trail. It never fails to make my heart leap.
Andrea CannonFebruary 12, 2023 at 1:17 am
Love this so much! Thank you for sharing.
TerriFebruary 12, 2023 at 5:55 am
Thank you for reading my post!
MichelleFebruary 12, 2023 at 7:44 am
You are so right, everyone needs a “forest wild.” I love the perspective that you brought to this piece. You reminded me to just be one with nature. Thank you!
TerriFebruary 12, 2023 at 8:27 am
I think people realized the importance of getting out into the fresh air and hiking in the woods during the pandemic. I hope that they continue to prioritize spending time in nature in the years ahead. I am glad that my post reminded you to be “one with nature!”
PamFebruary 12, 2023 at 9:56 am
I love this! Such a great read. I love being out in the woods too for all of this – I love connecting with nature. My husband is more of a “lets get to the top” hiker, so I often have to remind him of this.I think I’ll send it to him now for his hike later today
TerriFebruary 12, 2023 at 11:13 am
Hahaha … I am sure your husband will appreciate how this “traveler blogger” is nagging him to slow down and smell the trees! I am glad that you also love to connect with nature.
BrittanyFebruary 12, 2023 at 10:13 am
I love all the greenery! With so much desert terrain here in Phoenix, it’s so refreshing to see! Thanks for sharing this post about Black Hills Park!
TerriFebruary 12, 2023 at 11:12 am
The forests on the East Coast are so green and lush. I was shocked when I hiked in the mountains outside of Phoenix by the rugged terrain. Plus I had to get up at 5 am to hike before the sun rose in July.
Goya GaleottaFebruary 13, 2023 at 3:22 am
What a fantastic place to grow up in! We have some parks near us in London, but nothing quite like this of course 🙂
TerriFebruary 13, 2023 at 6:11 am
I love your beautiful parks in London. It is one of my favorite places to visit whenever I come to London. My park is in a rural area so it is more of a wild place.
HelenaFebruary 13, 2023 at 3:44 am
This is so beautifully written and what a spectacular place to have lived for so much of your life – very lucky!
TerriFebruary 13, 2023 at 6:10 am
You are so kind. I think this was my love letter to the forest. It was indeed a special place to live. I try to go back at least once a year to hike in Black Hills park with my golden retriever.