Hiking the Forest in Fall: It's Natural.
Nature as Teacher
When you walk the forest alone in late fall or early winter—before snow obscures the ground—a blanket of detritus covers the earth, and the sound of bare branches clicking above mingles with the crunching of leaves underfoot. One feels compelled at such times to stop and listen. Indeed, one is well advised to do so, as wildlife calls this place home, and can be unpredictable. Whether to observe the beauty of a passing deer, or to avoid the scrutiny of a passing bear or skunk, diligence is sensible.
Nature is a willing teacher, and patient at times to a fault. At other times she—it is a she—is not quite as patient. On a mid-December afternoon as I walked alone deep in the forest she taught me a lesson that had been many years in preparation.
Like a Rock
When I walk the forest I don't just walk the forest. Often I stop. Nothing moves soundlessly across the brittle carpet, least of all a full grown human. The crinkly crunch of footfall drowns any possibility of hearing while moving. To stop the crunch, one must stop the foot.
Sound and movement are the preeminent attractors in the forest. For an animal, smell may supersede these, but I am not an animal. Sometimes I hear sound before I see anything, especially if it is a large animal and is far away. At other times my attention is attracted by movement first, especially if I am on the move myself. In general, powers of observation heighten when in the forest, which is why, perhaps, I saw the object of my lesson, which was neither moving nor making any sound.
It just sat there. Like a rock.
Incarcerated or Embraced?
It was a rock imprisoned by a tree, and the imprisonment had clearly been a thing long in the making.Neither the tree nor the rock had any choice in the matter. They were following their nature. It was the nature of the rock to remain at rest exactly where it was; inertia dictated its behavior. It was the nature of the tree to grow, to reach out, and ultimately to envelop and entrap the rock. The rock was now its prisoner.
Or was it?
Was the rock incarcerated, or simply embraced?
As I stood alone in the forest observing this phenomenon it suddenly struck me that the answer did not involve the rock or the tree at all, but rather, the observer. Any conclusion would be a reflection of the state of mind of the individual reaching the conclusion.
Do you see yourself as the rock, or the tree? Which is controlling which? Is either in control, and does it even matter?
Eventually the tree will die, and the rock will no longer be contained. Was the rock ever really free? Was it ever really imprisoned?
Look at the rock. What do you see?
Perception, time, attitude. These changeable aspects of the human condition are readily embraced in the solitude of the fall forest. When the trees shed their leaves, take a hike, behold the myriad lessons that nature imparts, and be at peace.
Like the rock, today's prison can be transformed into tomorrow's freedom.
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