Sunday, October 16, 2011

A Walk in the Woods

I'm going to start here with what sounds like a series of complaints or excuses - not because I think they 'excuse' anything, but because they are illustrative of the sort of resistance I found myself dealing with when it came to beginning the practice of consciously spending time outdoors in a natural setting.

Following Rev. Michael J. Dangler's suggested year long course of study (The ADF Dedicant Path Through the Wheel of the Year), this should be week three of this... and instead, things just stalled while I thought, "I need to do this... I really should go do this..."

But you see... there was rain. A lot of it.  And sitting in the rain is just never going to be something that sounds appealing enough to do on purpose.

And then there was the Rheumatoid Arthritis issues.  They tend to come right along with the rain, because I am one of those legendary human barometers - I can tell you how much it's raining by how much I feel like the Tin Woodsman of Oz, pre-oil can.  So sitting in the rain while creaking sounded really unappealing.  I didn't want to much commune with anything other than a warm cup of something, a blanket and book.

But finally - and it took me an embarrassingly long time to really sort this one out, it was the way Dangler's homework assignment is worded.  His suggestion is to spend an hour outside, simply communing with nature, noticing what is going on... nice, eh?  Yes, it sounds very nice - except that I am not coming from a place of being practiced at sitting for an hour doing anything at all without a lot of multi-tasking happening.

And I know, I know, trust me - if you can't sit an hour and be quiet, that's a good sign that you need to develop a habit of sitting quietly for an hour without self-distraction.  But like any good practice, you build up to an hour, not try to start there.

So Michael and I went back to the actual Dedicant's material and while regular time in nature is an important part of this, there is no actual requirement to start out by sitting still for an hour.

That took all the pressure off and unblocked me.

Today - still creaky, but willing, I took advantage of a beautiful sunny Autumn day to go along with Michael and Sadie the Beagle to one of their regular walking places, Ft. Foote, a couple miles from the house.  This was a Civil War area fort, one of several put up to protect Washington DC, and most of the man-made structures are gone now, leaving a lovely wooded area with a foot trail that is mostly easy for me to walk on, before it dips down into a somewhat challenging hike around some exposed roots, past a watery bog and coming out at the shore of the Potomac River.  The whole stretch is maybe  mile, and it was enough to be a good physical challenge for me without being too much for me to handle.

Near the shore, I found a fallen log the right height to offer a seat, and settled down to rest before we did the walk back, while Michael and Sadie walked along the shoreline for a bit.  Where I sat, the early afternoon sun was able to reach through the trees and keep me warm, and for awhile, I sat, eyes closed, just listening - bird song, various insect drones, frequent crackling sounds as seeds fell out of the trees.  Punctuating these quiet sounds was the all too frequent roar of airplane traffic heading to or from National Airport across the river, but other than that, the sounds were small and subtle. 

A good breeze blew through once, and suddenly it was raining leaves, which fell in loops and whorls and skittering across the path.  I did not see any animals though I tried - we have abundant deer and squirrels in our yard, but here in the woods, they were more shy about being seen.

When Michael and Sadie came back from their extended walk, we made our way back toward where we'd park.  There is a section we passed through where the trail runs along the tree line on one side, and on the other side there is a shallow open meadow that leads to a high outcropping that overlooks the Potomac.  Here it was sunny and golden, and standing still it was possible to see dozens of dragonflies skittering along on top of the tall grass.  As we paused to watch, a deer with a huge uplifted white tail pranced across the meadow and into the trees.

I very much liked the whole area - it made me sad, though, that nearly every sign of human presence was a negative one... the loud roar of airplanes, the trash - while there were plenty of trashcans available, they were filled to the brim, so funds are not allowing trash pick up as frequently as needed, and that doesn't seem to stop people from piling it up around the cans, rather than taking it with them for disposal.  Looking out at the Potomac, there were lots of sailboats (getting in a last good sail before the weather turns completely), and yachts, and the Wilson Bridge linking Maryland and Virginia, and we were almost directly across from Alexandria.

I hope to be able to take this walk a few more times before icy weather makes it too unsafe for me.  And now that we've broken the ice on this whole 'commune with nature' thing (I even made it for over an hour!), I will be able to spend more time outside in our own back yard.  I'm just not going to worry so much about how long I do it each time.

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