I went for a walk yesterday. I go for a lot of walks, really, because what’s the point of living within a stone’s throw of national parks if you don’t take advantage of them?
The cold came on suddenly and after a long, busy week I woke up on Sunday morning feeling vaguely like I might be getting sick and vaguely like I never wanted to leave the warmth of my bed. I turned my heat up, just a tick because I am at heart puritanical. I put on slippers and a bathrobe and grabbed my laptop and told myself it was ok to be lazy for a day because I was getting sick.
Sometime around 4 pm I blinked and felt that awful Sunday malaise, that creeping feeling of wasted time and life-questioning doubt. I felt dizzy with it, and thought, I need to be in the woods. But it was dark. So instead I opened my front door and breathed in fresh air and cleaned, changed my bed, did the dishes — the kind of busy work that lets your brain get on with the work of fixing your mood.
Yesterday morning though, I looked at the grey skies and the forecast of rain and thought, no. I need the woods.
I have three places where I walk. Fort Hill is my favorite — the ocean painted across the skyline, the gently rolling hills of grass. You walk along phragmites and boulders and a crumbling stone wall and suddenly you are in the cedar swamp, and then suddenly again you’re emerging from under an arch of trees and there’s the ocean again, the sweet smell of meadow, the wide open skies. It’s a treasure. But I knew I wouldn’t be alone there, because no one with taste can resist it. Even on stormy days people park their cars and stare at the ocean.
There’s salt pond. It’s lovely, too — a wide, shallow pond where people clam and fish. The path around it is layered with dead marsh grass. Tiny birds pop along the shore line, and in the distance you can see the estuary, and then the mouth of the bay, all suitably dramatic and looking like something out of time. But it’s open, and I needed trees to cover me.
It’s weird, sometimes, how well your body knows what you need before you consciously realize it. If you’re off diet for a bit, suddenly your body craves greens like no other. When I’m feeling especially frazzled, I get the urge to clean — because when I’m frazzled things get messy, and when things are neat I’m calmer. And yesterday I knew I needed the woods.
So then there’s the cedar swamp at Marconi Beach. There’s an overlook of the ocean here, and there’s often people standing at the fenceline, looking down the steep dunes, listening to the waves. You can see up and down the coast here. It’s beautiful. But the paths into the woods are usually much emptier, especially on a dreary Monday morning, early, and…
And let’s be honest. For most of the walk, the woods here are distinctly unlovely. It’s pitch pine and brush, muted in browns and greys in the November light. It’s a prototypical cape cod wood; nothing special, for all the walk brings you up and down stepped hills and round corners where you hope to see something beautiful. Still, the woods are quiet. You can hear the undertone of the surf, and some birds, and the wind clattering the oak leaves still stuck to the trees, but there’s nothing else.
And then the path crosses a wider path and continues on to a part of the woods that are distinctly, almost ominously, dark. Inside these woods, you walk on a platform over copper colored pools of water, hillocks of moss, and tall cedars rubbing against each other overhead. It looks like a different world. I love it. I love the way trees have fallen to lean over the path. Some of the cedars have lost their bark, smooth to the touch. It’s even quieter in the swamp, aside from the occasional rasp of trees meeting. You can’t even hear the surf here.
Usually I walk with a book in my ears, but I needed the quiet too yesterday. It’s a busy week this week for me, and I’m feeling thoughtful about the future, and my Sunday mood hadn’t fled on Monday morning. But in those woods, everything settled back where it belonged. It is its own meditation, a walk in the woods, in these woods. I left them and felt better, went to work, met with clients, and generally settled into a Monday sort of mood.