Today, I had an itch. Over spring break, at home, I usually make an effort to take a walk through the woods near my house. I grab a walking stick and pretend I am a hobbit-girl, inspecting the surroundings. After spending a vacation largely on the couch churning out job applications, I returned to Norton this afternoon and realized that my trekking tradition had slipped my mind.
I don’t usually go alone. Char comes with, or my dad, and last year I dragged Grace. After unpacking, saying goodbye to my grandmother, mother, and sister (a strange little generational nesting doll), and accidentally falling asleep for half an hour, I shot awake and muttered to myself that I needed to get outside. Amaya was working on some wretched Stenger project. Grace was making phone calls. So I shoved on a baseball cap and began my solitary amble down Howard.
Usually I’m happy doing a lap or two around the Dimple, maybe walking around the old Science Center if I’m feeling ambitious, One of the highlights of walking, for me, is seeing and being seen. But this was a quiet hour, on a quiet day, before campus refilled again. More alone than I thought, I was wont to take an unexpected turn onto a bridge near Lot 8, that I had often in passing but toward which I had never ventured.
And there I was. In the woods. I’d often heard people talking about going into the Wheaton Woods and exploring, in varied states of sobriety. But I had never been. There are several Wheaton places I have never entered: the Admissions Office, the Field House, Hebe Hall, the Old Observatory. There are not reasons for me to be in those places, nor was there a real reason for me to be in the Wheaton Woods. I don’t know why I haven’t made reasons. So I went.
I like having something in the palm of my hand — when I was a child, it was anything I could grab. It often was a substance that could wreak havoc. See: the Silly Putty incident of 1998. I learned my lesson after losing a chunk of hair to that tantalizing goo. I began picking up stones. I like slightly oblong, gray ones best. The best ones are found at the beach; I am partial to ones from the sands at home. I remained squat at the foot of the first bridge for some time this afternoon inspecting several specimens and put a few in my pockets. I was surprised at how easily engaged I was. I thought, again, of Grace, having just returned from a journey to Death Valley with her advanced geology seminar. I dug my fingers into the dirt and thought for a while about how seldom I tend to look down when I walk. I am barely conscious of the world around me if I have a destination, let alone the world below.
Having never been in the Wheaton Woods before, I did not notice a clear path running a little further off from where I started, but instead made my way through a thorny path to a clearing. Green things were making their way out of the ground, like Persephone to her mother at the onset of spring. This was perhaps more rewarding than immediately finding the path. Spring has been quick to tease us, blowing warm air into our faces, so our eyelids flutter with hope, but then slapping us with unexpected snow and iced over walkways. There are remnants of this in the Woods. Some dead-leaf paths are still a little slick with ice, and the air bites a bit if the sun is behind a tree, but I know now that spring is coming. I am certain of it, and this brought renewed faith to my movement.
The most remarkable thing I found all afternoon was perhaps a very large felled tree. I don’t know how long it’s been in its current position (I suppose there’s someone on campus who’d know). I sat on it for a long, long while and enjoyed the last bits of today’s sunshine. For a moment I wished I had brought my notebook and a pen, but I think it was better, this first moment of discovery, to have some time with my thoughts. I think I need to find myself in awe of nature more often. It did wonders for the senses. I felt myself breathing more easily, remembering that I was just one working gear in this universe.
I hopped off after a time and stood gazing into the open maw of the tree’s roots. It was strange to think about — how this massive organism was once so deeply embedded in the ground and was felled by another force of nature, and how even things no longer growing from the ground still house life. There are metaphors peeking their way out of there. I think I would like to spend more time in trees.
I walked on a more trodden path for a time longer, but not so long as to be out after sunset. I like the Woods because I was still able to hear the bell joyously chiming atop Emerson on the hour. A good primer for the beginner outdoorsman. Like a string tied to my finger, connecting me to a place I know better. Perhaps even further symbolic that the song the bells play is the tune of my doorbell at home in Connecticut. I kept walking, and the path ended, at another clearing. A different type — an athletic field. One I hadn’t seen before. I looked puzzledly at a lazy pickup soccer game, then turned and went back, making a note to consult a map on my return home. (I did, apparently it is the new turf field. Strange that the end of my walk ended at the object of conservationist protest.)
And so I left the Woods, walking on a long bridge to the real path out, behind Beard. This was my first venture out, but it will not be my last. I would like to find out about the bridges, and the tree, and the creek. And I think next time, I’ll pack a lunch.