Currently I am reading Wild, by Cheryl Strayed, which I’ve attempted to read before. I’m not a huge reader of “nature-y books”; while I love hiking, camping, and the outdoors in general, I’ve never been a person to read about someone else’s adventures in the woods or observations about the natural world. (Though I patiently and devotedly listen to Tee’s recountings of the books she has read about these topics; she’s definitely a nature-y book reader.)
I decided to give Wild a second chance because I just finished one of Cheryl’s other books, Tiny Beautiful Things, and found it oh-so inspiring and beautiful. I spent my Saturday morning in bed with Wild, reading about how hiking the Pacific Crest Trail helped Cheryl to go “from lost to found” following several chaotic and heart-wrenching years of hard living.
Reading this got me in the mood. I decided to take an extremely miniature version of Cheryl’s adventure. I laced up my hiking books, packed up my BUDM backpack, and drove over to the Gunpowder River for a rare solo walk in the woods. (Sidebar – I actually can’t recall any other time when I’ve gone for a hike solo. I’ve gone for runs solo, and I’ve taken hikes with a dog or with companions, but rarely – maybe never? – solo.)
Hiking helps to pull my focus, which is a challenge for me. It’s hard to put it into words exactly what I mean, but I’m going to try. My mind can get extremely scattered and all-over-the-place. (I know I’m not alone in this.) I’ve formed a lot of habits that are sort of “anti-mindful” – watching TV while doing chores, listening to a podcast while journaling, etc. And I often find it hard to just BE where I am – I’m often thinking about the past or the future, and I’m constantly on a quest to bring myself more fully into the present moment. I’ve found that certain pastimes (playing soccer, interacting with a young child) and certain emotional experiences (most notably, grief and heartbreak) pull my focus reliably and consistently.
Reading about Cheryl’s adventure, this was the concept that struck me the most – how being out on the trail, without screens/distractions/indulgences/other people, pulled her focus to the most basic human experience. She felt tired, or hungry, or afraid; she was focused on simply walking further, quenching her thirst, and nursing her tired feet. (I don’t want to paraphrase her experience – really, everyone should go get a copy of this book if this paraphrasing sounds appealing!) Even my simple hour-long hike along the Gunpowder served this purpose, to a tiny extent – it helped me to clear my head and to focus on putting one foot in front of another. (At one point, it helped me to focus on grabbing on to tree branches so this blog post would NOT be about me falling into the Gunpowder River while trying to be all cool and Amazonian like badass Cheryl Strayed.)
Taking moments away in nature also tends to inspire me to come back to my computer/typewriter/journal and write. In a later post, I will try to encapsulate where my thoughts took me on my mini-Wild excursion. For now, I am just happy that it helped me to pull my focus from my scattered, addled brain and into the now.