"When we lived on the east coast we spent a day or a weekend in Shenandoah National Park two or three times a year but I've seen more things for the first time in my own little piece of woodland than I did in that great national park - species of birds that I hadn't seen before, mushrooms and other fungi, wildflowers. The people we saw on the hiking trails in the Park were always in a hurry, always noisy and wrapped up in themselves. It was always about getting to the other end of the trail and back, not about the little things they might see along the way. The conversations we overheard were always about somewhere else - the next meal, the next place they were going to go, things going on at home and always complaining, complaining, complaining. They didn't know how to live in the moment. I have to admit that we were mostly like that too."This little quote really hit home with me! When I wrote 50 Hikes in Louisiana, one of my main points of the whole book was that there is so much to see, so much that we take for granted out there ... but if we just stop and look, we'll be overwhelmed at the miracles that surround us--fungi, leaf-cutter ants, marsh communities, shell middens built by Native Americans long before our time, plant communities that are the result of a previous course of the Mississippi River, etc. The six months I spent researching and writing that book were really six months spent immersed in miracles, in the ongoing thrill of discovering new things--things that had existed all this time in my home state of Louisiana, but things I had never taken much time to notice until I started exploring the trails of my own state.
These days, I spend most of my life in one of three places: (1) my cubicle; (2) my car; or (3) sleeping in my bed. Oh, I spend as much time as I can on the piano and reading books; I guess those are my ways of seeing new things these days. It seems like I am seeing and hearing new things in music every day, and that is a thrill in itself. But this life seems far removed from my hiking life--either the one on the AT, or the one researching Louisiana's trails.
I don't want to sound like I'm never guilty of blandly overlooking new things. I spend more of my life than I'd like to admit, staring straight ahead, not paying attention to what's around me. When I thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail, I spent the first three weeks taking every side trail, taking in all the details, and existing on an emotional high. The rest of the hike had its good and joyful moments, but I had a time limit (six months) and needed to hike a certain number of miles per day if I were to finish in time to get back to my job on the agreed-upon date.
I regretted that I couldn't spend every day of the hike the way I'd spent those first three weeks on the AT in Maine. That is one reason I loved the Louisiana trails when I was researching them. They're mostly short and not very difficult, so they give you the time you need to stop, look, listen, and explore. If you're into wildflowers or bugs or birds or fungi, you can take your guidebooks and binoculars and camera and spend an entire day exploring a three-mile trail.
(I think this sense of discovery, this up-close experience of the miraculous, is why so many of us feel closest to God when we are in the woods. At the same time, it also makes me wonder why more of us, myself included, aren't raving environmentalists.)
The trouble with getting into the mode of seeing new things is that it's so hard to come back into the "real world." I once started working through the book, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. That book opened my world up in ways I'd never imagined. As far as art is concerned, I always responded more to verbal (literature) and musical art, and less so to visual art. Once I started doing the exercise in this book, however, it was like a veil was lifted from my eyes (I know that is a cliche, but that's how it felt). I was suddenly fascinated by the lines in peoples faces, the angles in everything, the way that crape-myrtle branches looked strangely like sinewy human limbs.
(Picture is from the U.S. National Arboretum)
I was also amazed at the way that tree bark itself is so many different colors ... why did we always draw tree bark "brown" as children? The bark of most trees was anything but brown.
OK, I am rambling. But it's been a good ramble. Back to work. And to think that my title for this post was "Another Day Without Much to Say." Hmph. So much for that.