Hanging up my compass

There was a time in my life when camping out meant a tent, a shovel and a roll of toilet paper; when a walk in the woods meant heading cross-country with a compass, maybe a map, and my own new trail unfolding behind me.

Now, I’m happy to find an inexpensive Motel 6 when I’m traveling, and

Lady stops to sniff the breeze off the bay.

Lady stops to sniff the breeze off the bay.

very willing to make do with the well-kept trails in the state park.

When I first began noticing these shifts in requirements, I was a bit dismayed. Could this mean I was getting soft? Or worse, getting old? Well, yes.

Maybe not old. Never that. But I have gratzy knees (my favorite word, coined by my husband) that mean no twisting, no long, hard walks. I have a back that my patient chiropractor is slowly trying to restore to normal, a long process I’m sure. And I have the wisdom to know that at this stage in my life, I don’t have to set any records, break any new ground, or challenge myself physically.

A trail sign shares space with pileated woodpecker holes.

A trail sign shares space with pileated woodpecker holes.

And so, when it comes time for a ramble with Lady, we often head to the state park. It’s just minutes from our house and riddled with trails of all kinds. Some collect cool breezes while skirting the bay, some climb up to the old ski hill for a spectacular view, some plunge into the dense canopy of tall evergreen and deciduous trees. I can take my time; I can stop to photograph wildflowers, or gather acorns for the squirrels back home. I can take a break and listen to bird- and wind-song; and aside from a general knowledge of the lay of the land, I don’t need a map or a compass.

Best of all, I can restore myself. Somewhere

A trio of cedars leans in toward the bay.

A trio of cedars leans in toward the bay.

I read that human beings NEED nature to get back in touch with themselves, to connect with that creation of which they’re a part. Too much concrete and traffic, too much technology and artificial noise, are akin to a slow poisoning of the spirit.

I know people who can’t stand quiet, who can’t be alone with their own thoughts without some sort of background distraction–radio, TV, CDs, whatever. Our house, in contrast, is often very quiet as we putter around with our projects. It’s peaceful.

But there’s a different kind of quiet in the woods.

Sunlight dapples the water ripples.

Sunlight dapples the water ripples.

The wind soughs in the trees, moving like an unseen specter from one stand of trees to another as it passes by. Birds flit, sing, challenge each other or drill for insects. Geese in the bay squabble among themselves. Insects zip blindly by.

Those sounds don’t gentle my thoughts, they erase them. My mind drifts, my breathing slows, and I am content just to be. Tension slips away, and nothing seems as important or as consuming as it might have before.

Sometimes I simply enjoy putting one foot in front of the other along the path,

The inside of a large and well-explored pileated woodpecker hole.

The inside of a large and well-explored pileated woodpecker hole.

watching the ground, or scanning the tree tops. Sometimes I let myself be amused at Lady’s obvious enjoyment of our nature trek, where every sniff has a new possibility, where trails sensed only by her lure her doggy imagination. I like giving her the gift of walk in the woods. Sometimes George and I converse quietly about each other’s observations. We take turns holding the leash so the other can photograph.

No compass, no map, no breaking trail. I enjoyed all that once upon a time. My doses of nature are a bit tamer these days and that’s perfectly all right.

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About Monica Sawyn

I'm a retired newspaper reporter/columnist, and although I still freelance, I miss the weekly column I used to write. I still "see columns" in everyday life and need a place to put them after they're written--thus, this blog. I'm Catholic, have been a Benedictine oblate since 1977, and live with my husband and our beagle in Sturgeon Bay, Wis. When I'm not writing, I'm probably reading, sewing, taking photos or walking the dog.
This entry was posted in getting older, hiking, nature and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Hanging up my compass

  1. blb1 says:

    I used to walk in a park in our area, though I had to drive to it first. I haven’t been there in years and miss those days, but I’m still ‘upright’ as I tell people who ask ‘how are you?’. God is good.

    • Monica Sawyn says:

      I once heard someone say that when you’re asked “how are you?” you should respond with,”I’m blessed” because we truly are, each and every day. Enjoy each moment, right?

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