How to walk through the Forest.

Walking through the forest trails has become one of my favorite pastimes. It is a portion of the day where I can explore, contemplate, and observe the environment through the five senses. As I write, the fall season is vibrant and thus, the leaves are pleasant shades of yellow, orange, and red. The smell of manure is gratefully gone and now the wet earth odors are much appreciated. The crisp air keeps my attention sharp and allows my breath to become clouds. The leaves crunch beneath my feet when dry and slip like slick banana peels after the evening rains. I find the forest to be a temple of sensations that delight the mind, body, and spirit. That is if one can engage intuitively with nature, which involves novel exploration.

If one chooses to simply, quite literally, remain on the beaten path then the experience from the excursion will be limited to the boundaries of the sanctioned trails. What’s worse is that even on those trails, I’ve witnessed several people strolling along with their eyes glued to their phones, as if that were more stimulating than the wildness of organic life that surrounds them. But maybe it is mesmerizing for them and to them, I’m just a tree-hugger who hasn’t adapted to the times. But oh how I know I am much more than that.

I’ll offer an example of the adventures I’ve had in the forest when exploring without expectation. Once I decided to take a route that wasn’t covered in gravel like the main trails, but rather the shrubbery looked to have been trampled over consistently and thus piqued my curiosity. The “unofficial” pathways tend to hold more excitement. Shortly along the way, I noticed a fairly straight long branch which gradually shortened towards one end and thought it would make for a fine walking stick. This turned out to be useful as a few feet later the path lead uphill and the ground was damp, so the staff aided my stability. The forest gradually became less dense but the leaves high above still sheltered me from a the light rain. Brittle twigs were being pulled by gravity towards the earth, but many began to be caught amongst healthy branches. Seeing that their decomposing would be delayed because of this, I used my newfound walking stick to knock some of them to the ground, both accelerating the fertility of the soil and removing the blockage of growth for the hearty trees. The only incentive for this was to pass the time by doing something concretely helpful within my close proximity. A gesture of “thank you for the oxygen” to the trees.

Approaching the top of the hill something to my left surprised and humbled me. A small shrine that didn’t appear to be touched in quite some time. It was a sort of alter made of arts and crafts supplies. Plastic jewels, painted wooden blocks, popcorn garlands: things of that kind. But most of it had been blown over by the wind and covered with the falling leaves. So I decided to rebuild what had already been constructed and reinforce it artistically with the materials around me. I made a circle of smooth stones around the base to keep it sturdy, stuck the biggest and most vibrant leaves I could find in between the wood for shelter, and left a seashell I had in my pocket among the other offerings. I don’t know what who or what the shrine was in honour of, but it didn’t matter. I could see the loving intention of whoever made it and decided to mend the site as a gesture of communion. It’s the kind of experiences like this that you don’t get from always sticking to the common trails. Sometimes one has to venture out from the comfort zone to find something truly special.

So what are people who are trapped in their thoughts or who’s sight is inseparable from the small screens they carry when in the forest missing out on? I mean their just trees right? Nothing nobody hasn’t seen before, right? Well, the point is that their not just trees. And it’s not about having seen them, it’s about how you see them. For instance, what really is a “tree”? A “tree” is a symbol, a descriptive word which we use to label over natural objects as a substitute for understanding what it really is. In the recent movie Birdman, this idea was expressed through a note on Micheal Keaton’s desk which read “A thing is a thing, not what is said of that thing.” No tree is the same as any other tree on earth or tree that has come before it. From the thickness, texture and curvature of the branches to the pattern and shape of the leaves they are each unique.

Also, what do trees do? Well for one thing they breathe. And not only that, they breathe oppositely from how humans do. They inhale carbon dioxide and exhale oxygen. Ponder that for a moment. They absorb what we discard as sustenance and produce or emit what we require to survive. The nature of our breathing and their breathing gives purpose to one another. You could even form a ying-yang analogy between trees and people to demonstrate the codependency of the two life forms. Now, the word “tree” hardly begins to capture that kind of insight. So the next time you assume you’ve already grasped the depths of what’s around you because of having associated it with a symbol, look closer.