During World War II, a film came out entitled ‘A Walk in the Sun.’ it was about a squad of infantrymen who landed at Palermo, Italy and began a forced march across the countryside to their first objective, a farmhouse at some critical crossroads.
I took a forced march in the woods recently. Trust me here; there is a correlation between the two.
‘A Walk in the Sun’ had very little combat action but ran with poignant dialogue that truly captured the everyday thoughts of those infantrymen as they marched through the Italian countryside. It was at once reflective, insightful, and thought-provoking. It connected the audience on an emotional level with each one of those soldiers. Walking in the woods, alone or with a friend, and getting lost there can have the same effect. It’s like an elixir for your mind and soul at the same time.
Folks have been wandering this planet since the beginning of time. Walden and Thoreau, in their time, were able to capture the peace and serenity that accompanies this kind of soul-soothing venture. Long trail runs and mountain hiking can produce the same kind of mind-altering euphoric effect on the brain.
Back in the desert, I’ve taken my own kind of ‘vision quest’ a number of times climbing the mountains, finding a spot to nest in and then get lost inside my head.
The surrounding environment found in mountains and woods is much the same. It’s a quiet that can pound on your eardrum with its softness and penetrate your psychic with reflective thoughts that seem to come out of nowhere and get lodged there. Much like the girl back in college who taught me how to walk in the rain, solitary walking in the woods can have much the same visceral, cerebral cleaning effect.
When he was just sixteen, Brian and I did that in the Amazon basin. It was a wonderful kaleidoscope of running the Amazon in a narrow canoe carved out of a tree trunk, trudging through the jungle in the pouring rain, crossing raging river streams, and dodging rockslides.
I repeated that experience again in Costa Rica at the end of a long forced march through the jungle. We were three hours into a of non-stop jungle hike when we came upon a pool that had formed off of a river tributary to the Amazon.
My group of fellow hikers, without hesitation, promptly shed their clothes and plunged into the cool deep stream. The two women in the group were as quick to get rid of their soiled, sweat-stained clothes as the men were. The nudity was never an issue when the water was so refreshing and our minds were focused elsewhere.
When the kids were younger, I would sometimes take them into the woods to get lost. We’d stop by some fallen log and just sit there and listen.
At first, the kids couldn’t hear a thing but gradually they would grow accustomed to the quiet and slowly, ever so slowly, would begin to hear the wind, the birds, traffic far off in the distance and a myriad of other woodland sounds. It’s meditation on a soft blanket of moss surrounded by forest sentinels.
I still treasure those moments in time when I get to let go of my surroundings and let my mind and imagination float away, taking me along for the ride.