Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Losing the way

I walk in the woods....I go to the same small forest I have been walking for over a decade. I travel the same trails in the same direction. I know those woods intimately, know the time required for many trail variations. I know where the the trails get muddy or flooded and where heavy ice occurs. I know where I need to call my walk short because the sun is setting. I am amazed that I don't get bored because I experience more repetition than variety.

I know where the hills are, I know the streams. I know the field loops and trails that add ten minutes to my walk. I fall into the rhythm of my gait and breathing. I enjoy seasonal changes. I love the surroundings and enjoy the comfort of my own thoughts as I take almost daily journeys through "my woods."

Today I broke from my typical journey. I travelled the extension of an older rarely used trail. It is a long open uphill I see as I get ready to turn a corner. I found myself walking a lesser used stream-side trail to access to the beginning to this unexplored trail. I hadn't planned the change in direction...something about the white snow clearly marking the uphill called to me. I walked the long uphill until I saw a property sign indicating I would be leaving the official boundary of my woods. I turned back into the forest near the crest of the hill.

Broad slabs of granite littered the forest floor. Faded blue flashes appeared occasionally on trees. The trail markers were not reliable. I didn't have a map. I was not in familiar territory. The sun was starting to set. I realized I was not on a typical afternoon walk.

Light snow marked some of the trail. Heavy tree cover erased the snow so I had to rely on instinct to "see" other trail indicators on this infrequently travelled route. The granite slabs took on a slightly different color where the path crossed. The ground was slightly indented. A faded trail marker would appear. I continued. Then something about the contour of the land told me I was nearing familiar territory. Indeed I was. I followed a switchback over a large granite slab and realized I was on a hill above a field I traverse at the end of my everyday walks. I was in the field a few minutes later.

I loved that walk. I had a few flashes of concern but once I focused on trusting my instincts about feel of the land I settled and paid close attention to subtleties. The experience opened all my senses. I noticed ground cover, striations in granite, I could smell the forest, I heard migrating birds circling overhead. I saw the beauty of the diminishing light as the sun set.

I took some risk setting out without a map, without noticing the time but I got to see my woods with new eyes. I am stepping out in familiar territory so I can step into unfamiliar territory. Today's whim will lead to tomorrow's adventure. I need adventure as much as I need familiarity.

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