Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The woods are calling

It was a productive Sunday afternoon. I’d just finished dusting and was about to sort two baskets of laundry when I glanced out the window. With so many leaves off the trees now, the view from the kitchen to the state park hiking trail that runs behind our back yard was unobstructed. Words floated into my head: “I cannot bear the fact that I am not walking in the woods right now.”

I thought for a moment about all the reasons someone might look out this window and say those words. Because they were too ill or injured to leave the house and reach the walking trail. Because they were taking care of someone else – someone ill, injured or simply too young to be left alone -- who needed their presence. Because there was an impending hurricane or tornado that would make woods-walking too dangerous. Because night had fallen and there was a risk of getting lost in the dark.
But none of those was the case. I was experiencing a physical yearning to be out walking in the woods, and instead I was…dusting and doing laundry. In short, nothing that really needed to be done.

And at that moment, the decision I’d made earlier in the day to focus on housework and my To Do list reversed itself. I put on boots and retrieved the dog’s leash. The dog herself needed no summoning; she was at my heels as soon as she saw the leash in my hand. We headed out.

I told myself it would be just a short walk, the easy twenty-minute loop from our yard down to the brook, across the esker and back. But once I was heading down the trail with the house behind me, dusting and laundry seemed a lot less important than they had ten minutes earlier. It was warm out, and despite last weekend’s time change, there was still plenty of light in the sky. An owl somewhere overhead hooted repeatedly. I’ve learned since moving to this house near the state park that I was wrong all my life in believing owls were solely nocturnal; we hear them throughout the day.

There was something so compelling about the urge to get out into the woods as I looked out the window to the trail. Maybe my sense of urgency had to do with the awareness that this option is temporary – we’re renters with less than a year left on our lease, and might not be able to walk through our back yard and into the state park much longer – and, of course, on the larger scale, any number of twists of fate could end my ability to go walking in the woods of Great Brook Farm State Park. Or maybe it was because I’ve been reading a lot of Thoreau lately and noticing, time and again, that Thoreau and I have in common a passion for walking equal to (in his case) or much greater than (in mine) our interest in nature itself. Thoreau had no family at home to take care of; he didn’t worry much about dusting and laundry. But he’s not here anymore to walk through the woods of New England, as far as I know (though I concede I could be wrong about that). I felt like I needed to do it for him as well as for myself.
Robert Frost said that the woods are lovely, dark and deep; my feeling yesterday was that the woods are also unconditionally welcoming. They didn’t make me feel guilty for not visiting them sooner, or for considering briefly that something else – housework – might be more important. They didn’t make demands or ask questions. They just welcomed me.

And after forty-five minutes, I was back home, free to dust and sort laundry for the rest of the afternoon, just as I’d wanted. Except I wasn’t even sure why I’d wanted that anymore, when the woods provided so much more solace than the housework.


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