Rob and I were hiking my favorite trail in Steamboat and we walked mostly in silence. He had done a 100 mile race on Sunday and Monday we had done a hike with 1600 feet of elevation gain. It was now Tuesday and we were on a hike with less climbing. The air was cool and smelled of autumn. Fall is my favorite time of year. I’ve never understood people who retire to hot climates. Days that hit a high of 70 are my favorite, and when the days begin to shorten in August, I feel rich with life just like the forest. My entire body swells with energy, hope and possibility. Too much heat leaves me drained and lacking in motivation.
We were three miles in when we heard the distant sound of animals we could not identify. Eventually, we saw a field of white in the distance and realized we were hearing goats. A lot of goats–a herd. The trail was rich with life. Felled trees, one with fireweed growing on top of dead wood, mushrooms, large and lush underneath another. I’m allergic to pine trees, but I inhaled deeply and smiled. I’ve always felt a spiritual connection with trees, and now I am determined to deepen my education about forest life.The fireweed, chokeberry, wild daisies and asters, lupines, pine and fir trees and countless species I cannot put a name to yet made me want to get down on my knees and kiss the ground. Thank you, I wanted to say. Thank you for being wild and true.
I thought about who I am when in the woods. How sometimes I am open and sometimes I am closed. There are moments when we pass other hikers and Rob says hello and makes a comment or two, but I keep my head down after saying hello, not wanting to engage.
Will you think less of me if I tell you that sometimes human beings make me weary? How there are times when all I want is solitude, and small talk in a forest feels empty? If I tell you that I don’t really care how your hike is or where you are going or how long it took? And that I do not care to share my wanderings with a stranger?
My children tell me that I wear my closed aura quite visibly. And why shouldn’t I?
I’ve been in the woods in the past, nursing deep emotional pain. The forest was a place of healing for me. I would close my eyes to the wind, watch the trees sway and feel comforted. Trees felt protective and kind when I most needed a warm embrace. They asked for nothing and they provided me with shelter, provided my heart with shelter.
Today I wanted to put the news and the mess we find ourselves in at bay. I wanted to hear the forest and let nature nurture my soul.
Other times I am open. Open to the random exchange with strangers despite how much I despise small talk. Sometimes my heart is just open to the human connection while in a forest, the sharing of a special space.
I feel it is best to be true to myself. To care for me. This is how I fill my internal cup and find my way back to society.
The forest and its ecosystem has a richness that I struggle to find in life at moments.
I know who I am while my boots stir up dust on any trail. And I refuse to be anyone else.
We spent some time watching a woodpecker do his work on a tall pine before we observed the herd of goats and a few horses set to graze in a field along the trail. There were chipmunks from time to time and the occasional lazy bumble bee. I looked up at the top of the varieties of pine trees as they soared into the sky and I felt small, insignificant even. The trees were lovely, even the dead wood on the ground that continued to have a purpose.
This was not a bad thing. I want to feel small, to just be a part of this vast ecosystem, doing my job like the mushrooms, insects, birds and goats. Just one more creature in this wondrous stream of life, like the bees and butterflies busy pollinating, and the leaves on the ground that add necessary nitrogen, and the rodents who eat damaging insects. When in nature, you can’t help but see yourself as a tiny part of a magnificent story.
At least I do.
When I spend time in the woods, I think about my purpose, where I fit in this fabric of life.
We humans take ourselves too seriously. None of us alone is all that powerful or valuable though we like to pretend we are. We are but parts of a whole. Together we weave the circle of life. We are born and we will die. All of us.
Life as a part of this circle is something to honor and celebrate.
So, I think it’s just fine if I don’t feel like talking while I’m in the forest. What could I possibly have to say?