Dec 12 2008

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Tracks in the Snow

Posted at 8:46 am under Blog Post

After the freezing rain had turned to snow, I bundled up, grabbed my dog’s leash and stepped out the door.  Matika ran ahead of me, naturally, excited by the prospect of a long walk.  We reached the trailhead after a short drive, then laid tracks in the pristine snow.  We had the rec path all to ourselves.

The naked trees and brush were a dozen different shades of brown, contrasting nicely with the whitened ground, rec path and sky.  The snow blew at a sharp angle across the path.  I raised the hood on my jacket to conserve body heat.  I picked up my pace.  Matika was already thirty yards ahead of me, terrorizing a squirrel.  The snow muffled every sound except that of traffic on the nearby highway.  Incongruity.  Nothing but trees in view, yet a blind man would have thought he was near a busy intersection.

Sometimes a walk is just a walk.  Sometimes I head outdoors, stretch my legs for a couple miles, then return home sweaty and a little winded but otherwise unchanged.  A lot of nature writing leaves the reader with the impression that every outing has the potential of being some kind of life-changing event.  Not true.   Sometimes the walk itself is all one gets out of it.  Sometimes there is nothing worth reporting – no wild encounters, no great moments of insight, nothing the least bit out of the ordinary.  Perhaps that is why so many nature writers tend to make something extraordinary out of the ordinary.  No writer wants to be caught without something to write about.

Ah, but there’s always the ineffable – that aspect of the wild that goes beyond words.  If an ordinary walk so often takes on the trappings of a religious experience, it’s only because the ordinary wipes the slate clean, making it easier for even an irreligious fellow like me to pick up on the essential Otherness permeating nature.  But that isn’t something easy to talk about, so we talk about the many familiar objects in nature, instead, hoping that something might emerge as a workable metaphor for that Otherness.  And it usually does.  But this is religion, not natural history.

Truth is, I’m not much of a naturalist.  Neither was Thoreau.  I’m just a writer with a bad habit of philosophizing while walking in the woods by myself.  But often I return home from an outing without a scrap of insight.  You, dear reader, usually don’t hear about those outings.  Why would you?

Sometimes a walk is just a walk.  Sometimes I head outdoors, stretch my legs for a couple miles, then return home happy to have gotten out.  I’ve had bad days that included a long walk, but they are rare.  I’ve had good days where I didn’t get outdoors, but they would have been even better if I had.  Above all else, a long walk is good for the body.  We Thoreauvians sometimes forget that.

The snow squall intensified as Matika and I finished our walk.  It quickly covered our tracks.  We were both covered with flakes by the time we reached the car.  While the defroster cleared the window, we exchanged big, goofy grins then picked chunks of ice out of our hair.  No doubt Matika was just as happy to get back to our nice, warm house as I was.  But going for a long walk is never a bad idea.

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