Walking in the woods

I love walking in the woods upon layers of pine needles, cones, branches and moss quilted together on the forest floor. Since she took her first steps, my daughter has helped me become a more observant tracker in the woods, pointing out the micro-evidence at my feet of creatures burrowing, nibbling acorns, or sharpening their nails.

Now that she’s in first grade I walk daily with Rosie, our golden-doodle. Rosie sniffs the earth and then bounds off on the chase, nose quivering, stiffened tail, and sometimes returns with a startled, blinking mole or the cold leathery box of a turtle in her mouth to drop at my feet. Other times she finds the skeleton of a fish or remnant of a rubbery duck wing, and rather than sidestep the decomposition in disgust, revels in the decay, rolling to get the stench of fibers into her fur.

This winter the frost on the goldenrod and aster glisten with ice in the morning sunlight. But so far the river is still sliding over the rocks and sometimes I can still catch a glimpse of the slinking
great blue heron fishing in the river or a red tailed hawk circling
the meadow.

“…you must lose your mind to come back to your senses.”

Meditation lends itself to tracking, says Doniga Markegard,
author of Dawn Again: Tracking and the Wisdom of the Wild, whom I
met recently at a workshop. Both are all about increasing your
zones of awareness and decreasing your zones of disturbance,
knowing every creature’s movement has a ripple effect.

“And you need empathy to become the animal you are tracking”
she says, recalling how she shuffled through a thorny bear tunnel
and chewed sweetgrass alongside a doe. “And for that you must
lose your mind to come back to your senses.” Like storytelling,
tracking is all about understanding ecological relationships,
between weather, time and space as we attempt to decipher
habits or ruptures in patterns of behavior.

This Winter solstice, as the light slowly returns, may we all learn to stay awake and tread gently upon the earth. 


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