Thursday, September 22, 2016

A Walk in the Woods (by me, not Bill Bryson)

Ever since my kids started school at the end of August, I have been making a concerted effort to go for an hour-long walk every weekday. I am fortunate that, from my house, there are a number of different options of where to walk. I can walk down the street, up the street, through various meandering back roads, or through the woods. Only a few blocks away, there is a large expanse of forest which is criss-crossed with paths that veer off and return periodically to the main road. This results in dozens of choices for walking options, with various levels of evenness and hills, smooth or rocky paths, and sun and shade.

Since I freely admit to having zero sense of direction, I was at first hesitant to take any of the paths through the woods for fear I'd end up walking in circles for hours. However, my husband (the Human GPS) took me walking in the woods several times, and pointed out certain trails which lead to familiar outlets, and I've begun to have the confidence to literally wander off the beaten path now and then as I walk through the woods.

The main point of my walks is exercise. I'd love to shave a few pounds off the number on the scale and a few points off the number on the blood pressure monitor. But when I walk through the woods, it's sometimes difficult to keep marching along at an exercising pace. Because the truth is, I want to stop and admire those wildflowers peeking through the underbrush. I want to stand still long enough for the birds to start singing again. I want to find out what kind of creature just skittered away through the dry leaves. I love the exercise, but I love the surroundings more.

After all, how can one pass by such loveliness as this without stopping to admire it?

Plus, these particular woods have interesting traces of humanity that pique my curiosity. Being New England, of course there are many random stone walls scattered here and there. This one looks like it's become a home for some kind of creature, perhaps a family of chipmunks or a snake or two. 

And then there is this stone wall, which clearly delineates a small grassy area. Upon closer inspection, you can see that there are a number of small square stones lined up in neat rows next to the long stone steps.

A sign at the center of the front wall offers an explanation: The nearby Fernald Center and Metropolitan State Hospital, both of which were historically homes for mentally ill and developmentally delayed patients, used this space as a cemetery from the mid 1940s until the late 1970s. The gravestones bear no names, simply numbers and the letters "C" (Catholic) or "P" (Protestant). A small shrine visible to the right of the photo indicates the Catholic section of the cemetery.

It makes me sad that the cemetery is tucked away in the woods, perhaps forgotten by the families of those buried here, but at the same time, it is a peaceful, serene place. I try to bring that serenity with me as I follow the sun-dappled path away from the cemetery. 

Today's weather feels like summer still, but deep in the woods I still spy signs of autumn's arrival: many fallen orange and gold leaves, and the occasional bright scarlet of a sumac plant. 

The wildlife sounds have a more autumnal feel to them, as well. The hum of insects in the trees feels more sluggish, and the occasional buzz of a cicada has a tired, lazy sound. Although it's hard to see in this photo, a pair of hawks was circling and calling under a bright half-moon in the clear blue sky.

Even as I reached the roadway and came back to civilization, peeking through the tall branches at the woods and marsh beyond, I felt like I brought the peace of the woods home with me.

Exercise is important, but I think the stillness of the woods lowers my blood pressure as much as the walking does. So I'll still do my heavy-duty exercise marching most days, but every now and then, I'll still just go for a walk in the woods.

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