“I took a walk in the woods and came out taller than the trees.” – Henry David Thoreau
“C’mon, let’s go!” He claps his gloved hands together, and looks at me with a twinkle in his eye. “It’s beautiful out, c’mon you’ll feel guilty if you miss it.” My husband has returned from a walk outside to get me, for several reasons. One, because it actually is beautiful out, as he says. By beautiful, he means it is not snowing or freezing rain outside and the temperature is hovering at the freezing mark, a remarkable 60+ degrees higher than earlier this month and unusual for January in Maine. Two, after 26 years of marriage, he knows that I truly am feeling guilty for not getting “my steps in” aka daily exercise, in favor of curling up on the couch with my cozy blanket and my Kindle. Three, he is a lover of nature and the woods of Maine and anyone who is passionate about something knows that it is most appreciated with someone you love.
“Okay, okay” I say as I struggle to my feet, tissues flying and my fleece throw falling to the floor. All afternoon, I had used a minuscule case of the sniffles to ward off guilt and to tell myself that I should rest today. But, guilt is my best motivator and he knows it, and besides bundling up and going out in the fresh air was not going to affect my cold one way or another, I just needed to bring tissues and wear a hat.
Off we went, mid-afternoon puffy, layered gray clouds over us, stark white snow ahead. We headed for the snowmobile trail adjacent to our property, an old railroad bed, perfectly groomed with snow so hard packed, our winter boots made hardly a dent. Sometimes when it is very cold out, the snow squeaks underfoot, but today, because of the warmth, there was a pleasant crunch, as we started out in perfect unison.
We spoke a little, our words almost visible in the form of steam curling around our mouths, but mostly we were silent, enjoying the view and listening to the sounds of silence. Sometimes, one of us would stop abruptly, and the other would stay as still as a statue without a word, knowing that the other person heard something. usually it was a few deer, feeling skittish as we approached, suddenly bounding off, white tails waving as they leapt away. Sometimes, one of us would put a hand on the arm of the other and point, often at a deer, who with the simplicity of a child was spotted hiding its head, while its body was in full view, erroneously thinking that if he couldn’t see us, we couldn’t see him. Not wanting to disturb him further, and in search of other sites, we continued on. Occasionally a group of snowmobilers pass, they wave as they go by, we smile and my husband does the two finger wave that some men do. Some we know by their eyes, the only thing visible with their helmets on, some are strangers, but all nod and you can tell by their eyes alone that they are smiling too. Mostly there is no sound, except the wind through the pines, the crunch of our feet, and the occasional sound of glass shattering as ice falls off a tree limb. The smells vary, sometimes a whiff of wood stove smoke drifts by, sometimes the intoxicating scent of balsam, but mostly its just the distinct smell of cold.
The woods are a balm to the mind, it’s no wonder that literary greats like Thoreau and Emerson found peace and inspiration there. The senses are stimulated but in such a gentle way, that you can choose to ignore it or absorb it. I have done both, There were times in my younger days when I snuck away to the woods for a cigarette as a way to escape the pressure of approaching adulthood, Back then, my already overloaded mind sought peace and tranquility, and I found it. After a few minutes in the enormity of the woods, my troubles felt as small as they sometimes do in the morning light, after the darkness of the night had magnified the smallest hill into a mountain.
As I have gotten older, I have started to allow the beauty I have seen to flow from my fingertips to my laptop, so that the woods have come alive. I have told myself to watch! Listen! Smell! Remember! I take pictures along the way, mainly to help me recall what my mind’s snapshots might forget. Looking back through these photos later as I write, I see what I wanted to remember. Yes, here are the photos of deer, hiding behind branches as small around as my forearm, and clusters of them playing on the tracks before us until one of them gives an invisible signal and they are gone. Curious tracks, hard to decipher in the hard-packed snow, we discuss whether they are dog prints or coyote. Playful, daredevil chipmunks darting in front of us, zigzagging across the trail, I can almost imagine that a teenage chipmunk dared his friend to cross in front of us. They are too fast to take a picture of, but I always remember them because they are so cute. Rabbit tracks make us wonder where they came from and where they went and woodpeckers ignore us completely, focused on the job at hand. All are captured on my phone, and in my soul.
My husband, eyes alight and movements as agile as a child, tells story after story as we venture on. There was the time he saw a mountain lion and also Bigfoot. Both considered impossible by some, believed by others. He tells of a beaver slapping its tail in warning at his approach, coyotes yipping close to him at night and Indian legends. Entertained by the stories, soothed by the sights and sounds, I have forgotten my head-cold and the fact that I am getting my steps in, until my Fitbit buzzes on my wrist, 10,000 steps. “Let’s turn back now” I say, suddenly noticing that the light is dimming and the pine trees, their needles dripping with ice like diamonds, are looking dark.
We turn around, walking in heavy winter boots and wrapped in layers, strangely easier and seemingly lighter than when I walk on a flat treadmill, clad in a cute workout attire with lightweight sneakers on my feet. Pondering this, I thought how exercise like anything else, is mind over matter, or as Mark Twain aptly declared, “If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.” Just like my runny nose was no longer my focus, so my documented “steps” had ceased to be the reason for this adventure.
Home again, guilt-free and content. I sit down to write, to quickly capture all that I have experienced, while my husband prepares to go back outside, each of having taken back from the earth what our busy lives have stolen from us. We are grateful for each other, he that I shared his world with him. Me, that he knew what I needed before I did. Both of us once again soothed, yet exhilarated; a feeling only a walk in the woods can provide.
“I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order.” -John Burroughs