You have probably heard of the book A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson, and the 2015 movie of the same name with Robert Redford and Nick Nolte, which details in both hilarious and serious fashion the attempt of Bryson and his friend Stephen Katz to hike the Appalachian Trail which runs through Hanover, NH where Bryson was then living. I recently re-watched the movie, which appeared on Amazon Prime, and it caused me to reflect how much trails and nature are a part of both my growing up and my current environments.
Growing up in Northern Michigan, I lived only about 10 miles from the edge of the Huron National Forest. Thousands of trees were planted there during the Depression by the Civilian Conservation Corps, and you can still see the rows upon rows of straight pines and other varieties that are a legacy of those days. On Sunday afternoons, my father would often take us on a drive where we would walk one of the trails or follow one of many two lane dirt roads into the forest. Later, when I was a young teenager, these roads were also where my dad took me to practice driving. My father’s unorthodox teaching method—which was nonetheless highly effective—was that I had to learn to drive backwards in a straight line AND learn to parallel park before I was allowed the “privilege” of driving forward. By the time I got to driver’s ed, I was a pro at parallel parking, and I can still see in my mind’s eye the markings in the sand on the two lane dirt road where my father had placed the other “cars” between which I was to practice parking.
These days, one of my favorite places is the rail trail that runs for more than 14 miles from downtown Keene, NH through the woods to Walpole. There is a section of the trail that starts only 2.5 miles from our house, and which I love to walk. It has been graded and greatly improved by a local nonprofit called Pathways for Keene, and is both gentle on the feet and easy to navigate.
I used to run this trail, and probably the last time I did that was in December. At first, when I began walking it, I was nostalgic, perhaps a little sad, for those days when I could cover seven or eight miles in under an hour and a half, feeling exhilarated by both the physical activity and the natural setting. It was a definite adjustment to move to walking. But now that I am used to it, I am noticing different things than when I ran it. For example, there are a couple of spots where an old, rusted out signal has been left along the side of the trail, along with the remnants of rail ties. Stone fences, such a big part of life in New England and the subject of the famous Robert Frost poem Mending Wall, dot the scenery as well. A couple of creeks run far below the trail bed, buttressed by sheer granite rock.
I also appreciate the company of friends, and more recently our son Harry, and have had some wonderful conversations while walking the trail. Harry and I also did a “walking meditation,” where we remained silent for stretches, our reveries interrupted only by the sounds of woodpeckers and other birds that are coming back from the south to nest in the woods along the trail.
I return from these walks both refreshed and peaceful, and I hope they are also staving off some of the fatigue that is common with radiation treatment in particular. Although I am easily able to do four, five, even six miles of the trail at a stretch right now, I know that a day will come when this is too much for me. For now, however, I appreciate every moment and every step that I can take–and I store the memories of the beautiful views and the peaceful environment to nourish both mind and spirit in time to come.