The sound of grass crumpling beneath my feet was the music of my childhood. I grew up in the country of Central Pennsylvania, surrounded by woods, streams, and fields. Every day was another chance for adventure, and very rarely was a nice day spent indoors. As a child I couldn’t wait to get dressed, throw on my shoes, fill my canteen, jump on my bike, and speed off into nature. Sometimes I would bring a journal along, noting what types of birds I came across. Other times it would be my parent’s binoculars with me looking like some miniature environmental scientist. Regardless of what was brought, each day was like setting out of some sort of Lewis and Clark style adventure, there was always something to be discovered.
I couldn’t count the hours I spent hiking through the woods but I could tell you it would amount to years. I grew up between the pines. I would run through the underbrush, clearing my way with a large branch. Never did I worry about a border or a ‘No Trespassing’ sign. It was all for the taking, it belonged to me. It was like I had struck a deal with the world, and we were both in agreement. We were connected, we were in each other and breathed together.
I came alive on the banks of the Conodoguinet creek, a Native American name meaning ‘A Long Way with Many Bends’. Unbeknownst to me at the time, but this name was a metaphor for my life. In the summer I would splash around in its cool waters, sometimes catching crayfish, sometimes flattening my back and letting the current drift me down along the bends in the river, until I would get out and walk back home. I found a tree that had hollowed out, and I would hide my toys in there and climb to the top to look out at the world. Everything seemed gigantic and it was always changing, always bending.
I would take friends with me once and awhile, but mostly it was on my own. That is the way I liked it. I never felt the need to entertain anyone, or to be anything at all, I could just exist. It was never silent, the world always has sound, whether it was the wind in the trees, the pleasant chirp of ‘spring peepers’, or water rushing over stone, there was always something to take in. Each of the five senses were exaggerated, filled with the knowledge that everything was right. My parents helped me become aware of nature, but more than that it is ingrained within me. It is in my soul. When I am among it I am at one with peace.
We now live in a world that is consumed with connection. We are never a moment’s notice away from a phone call, text, tweet, or Facebook status. Everywhere you turn there is another form of occupation to latch too. We are never far from a blaring television begging you to turn off your brain and sink into its glow. From morning to night there is something telling us what to think or feel. We are breeding a civilization that is afraid of quiet spaces, afraid to spend time alone with our own thoughts.
When I feel the pressure of it all and it does have physical weight, I know exactly what I need to do. I go for a walk in the woods. I grab my camera, turn my cell phone off, leave the i-pod at home. The most refreshing feeling is parking the car, shutting the door, and taking those first steps, and instantly I’m back to those wild days and those perfect nights lit only by the moon and starlight.
This is how you walk in the woods.
Walk, don’t run. I’m not suggesting you go scale a mountain barehanded. You don’t need to be extreme to enjoy this. Don’t worry about your pace, or how many calories you are burning. Simply put one foot in front of the other, there is no need to hurry.
Take it all in. In the middle of a pine forest, breathing deeply will fill your lungs with fresh air that no amount of Glade plug-ins can replicate. Scan the canopy and the floor, there is always something hidden, just waiting to be seen by only you.
Stop. Sometimes just standing still or finding an old log to sit on is the best part. Just looking and listening can clear any stress away. Because when you are alone in the woods, it is like being in a time capsule. Like the world outside has stopped and it is only you. It is all present, past, and future. You are no greater than any of your surroundings, just part of them.
Find your center. Remind yourself that we are nothing more than breathing/thinking organisms that are mostly just pretending that we understand anything. We are organic and made up of the world around us. Look at a tree, the way you can feel it’s age and strength. The way it is so much taller than you that you can do nothing but look up to it and how most likely it will still stand long after you are gone from here. Everything we that we treat as important; money, status, fame, is in reality only perception. We are just creatures that inhabit.
Remember beauty. Most importantly remember that you are alive. You may or may not have one chance here so best to enjoy it while you have it. Look at the world around you and see it for the majestic beauty that it truly is. This construct of life, that is just as alive as you are, is always around us. We become so enveloped in the grand scale that we rarely stop to appreciate the intense beauty that is in the everyday around us.
As long as I have a means to walk, I will. I will retain the earth that lives inside of me. Daily I grow older and away from the young boy I was on the banks of the creek, but that part of me will never fade. Like that name, life is a long way, and it is filled with many bends. But it is always with us. You and I both are the Conodoguinet.