I went for a walk in the woods today. Since I had lived for 32 years on fourteen acres of woods and fields before I sold the empty nest earlier this year, you wouldn’t think this was much out of the ordinary for me. But so much was different!
It’s been an adjustment to say the least, moving from a place of big skies and red-tailed hawks and limitless deer and raccoons to a much smaller house on a corner lot in a quiet neighborhood of friendly retirees. Elbow room is one of the things I miss. Another is just being able to shoo Lucky, my wolf-sized dog, out the front door and let him back in when he’s gotten everything out of his system, including chasing rabbits. We’re both getting used to life on a leash…and we’re both losing weight and gaining stamina with all those walks we take every day.
Since I no longer live surrounded by woods, I have to drive somewhere else to find them. It’s been my tremendous good fortune to relocate near my favorite state park on Lake Michigan. Most of the time when I need to relax or clear my head, I head straight for the parking lot closest to the beach, park the car, and get up close to the water. In summer, my feet always get wet. This time of year, I just watch the waves break from the comfort of dry sand.
But even closer, there’s a stretch of forest connected to the park that goes nowhere near the shoreline…but contains magic of its own. The grassy paths are wide and well maintained, and wind through stands of evergreens and birches, over rolling hills and down toward the swampy edge of a meandering river.
And so today I interrupted my “to do” list and made a break for it. There was only one other car in the lot, and I didn’t see a soul as I walked. And it took me a while before I realized that I had not walked in the woods all alone for years. One dog ago, I had a chocolate lab mix that liked to find dead things and roll in them. And so he pretty much stayed home when I took to the forests for some exercise or inspiration. I only invited him along if I knew I had enough time to give him a bath when we got back home. Poor Bandit!
But five years ago, Lucky joined me as a puppy, and he began to traipse through the woods with me on all of my jaunts, even the ones where I’m on snow shoes. And for a couple of years, my son’s cat “The Meatball” insisted on joining us too. And during that final year that the house was on the market, I don’t think I spent more than a handful of walks without also having a chainsaw or a pruning tool in one hand or the other as I groomed and tamed my own trail for prospective buyers.
There is a different, solitary dynamic at work when you are not keeping another creature on your radar as you walk. And so I slowed, and stopped, and marveled, at will. I stepped off the path to get closer to birch trees gleaming softly like slubbed silk in the afternoon light. A couple of them were so beautiful that I nearly hugged them. I stared at the sight of dozens of golden leaves curled like cocoons stuck to branches, and wondered at the patterns created by worm-eaten brown oak leaves. And when I found a bench by the side of the path, I simply sat and stared at the sky and the woods around me.
The peace was beautiful. The light was beautiful. And the solitude—for this brief sojourn—was beautiful too.