Often when we’re outside we rush through nature, we’re busy recreating, getting a workout, or wandering to shake off the day. But have you ever just sat absolutely still in the woods and shut off all your thoughts? It’s not easy, sitting still, thinking of nothing. But when you do, something wonderful starts to happen.
Yesterday I stopped for a moment. I sat down, and eventually, I cleared my head. The first thing I noticed was the colors. They fell on me one by one. When did things get so green? So blue? How are there so many shades of brown? Of yellow? The blending from one shade to another is so subtle, it tricks the eye.
Then came the smells. Unlike color, they came to me all at once. I could smell the soil, the heat and the plants. How many different plants are out here? I tried to separate their smell, their flavors. Suddenly an unusual and strange smell floated in. Or maybe it was there all the while. I tried to connect it to something I knew, but it was too weird. I was so absorbed in trying to place where it was coming from, that it took a few moments to realize it had left, as quickly as it came.
I come to these woods, so many times, shrouded and busy. But yesterday, I shut down, and I let go, I listened. I heard the birds first. I always hear them, no matter what. When someone’s talking, through an open window, when my minds full. But now quietly alert, I heard layers upon layers of song, of communication, of warning. I heard small footsteps below in the brush. And a louder, quicker, sporadic movement above and to the right. Something else, heavier, was moving my direction from a ways off. I sat very still.
I sat and the forest came alive around me. The sites, the smells, the sounds. The encounters. Curious birds dropped in close. A squirrel, agitated at first, then interested, went from a branch to the ground, walking funny. A deer stared at me, then flicked the all’s clear signal with its tail and went about browsing. A shy grouse peeked at me from under a pine. Are those tiny patterns in the background chicks? A flash of brown, small, close to the ground, a weasel maybe. In my stillness everything went about its business. And I became part of it.
So step outdoors and walk into the woods. Take a few moments to get outside your human realm. Then look, listen, breathe. And be encountered.
Tami Sorenson is the trails manager at Sheridan Community Land Trust.