A Day In The Woods

Nothing feels better than escaping your daily routine and the noises of the city and trekking through the mountains in the Hudson Valley in New York during fall. Golden, red, and orange leaves litter your entire field of vision. If you hold up a red leaf and inspect it, you’ll notice black speckles on it; almost like someone painted it and was trying to Punk me. You look up and listen, and instead of being greeted with the roar of an engine, or chatter, or the clang of metal, you hear: nothing. The only sound in the woods that greets your ears is the wind, rustling the endless expanse of leaves. If you stop and truly listen, the silence makes you forget where you came from and what you are. It doesn’t even seem like reality.

BUT, one thing I noticed that remains ever present: a nagging feeling that you can’t just sit and enjoy, you need to keep moving on, especially if you’re hiking. Who’s whispering in my ear? Am I remembering hikes with old friends who go, “OK, let’s keep moving.” Or am I riddled with habit from my city life where I move from one task to the next to the next, not stopping to just enjoy my surroundings. I mean, for people who live in the city, how often do you find yourself in a place where you just want to sit and watch the world go by? There’s a weird feeling of not being able to focus fully in the moment.

Or maybe you are, but you’re trying too hard because you know opportunities like this don’t come around every day so you want to make the most of it. You peer into the slowly bubbling creek, watching a single golden leaf get carried down the stream, over a log, over another stick, and gently falling further down through the forest. You turn your head back and find a bubble. It instantly pops. You recognize a rock that cuts the middle of the stream where no bubble can get past. There’s an innate beauty in the water. As Alan Watts would say, the water doesn’t try to be beautiful or flow faster and faster each year — it just acts as it does and stays beautiful regardless. This is great and all, but not even a minute goes by where you feel an itching sensation to get up and keep moving. What’s the destination? Why am I just sitting here? A creeping anxiety surfaces through you, making you feel as if you need to keep moving. Why can’t we just sit still here without a care in the world? No plans need to be made after this. This IS the main event.

This I’ve found to be (at least in my experience) the strange paradox of walking in a picturesque forest, even by yourself, that can create a weird type of paranoia and anxiety. The rhythm of city life and work doesn’t fit the woods. City life embodies moving from one entertainment to another or one task to the next or even sitting down to think a problem through sometimes. It’s quite active. Enjoying the woods and nature on the other hand — it’s up to you to see what’s going on around you and drink in the beauty that nature just creates for us. They create two fundamentally different ways of operating, and if you’re accustomed to one, that renders the success or enjoyment of the other more difficult.

How do we fix this — what switch can we flip to go from task-completing and our daily routine to reveling in nature and letting our focus dictate our enjoyment in the moment without a restlessness creeping into our bodies? Meditation maybe, or maybe just spending more time in nature or leaving our comfort zone and pushing ourselves to live differently. I have no idea, so if you have some, let me know.

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