Enter At Your Own Risk


A few days ago I took a hike through the concrete jungle of Washington D.C. where invasive weeds–highrises that blot out the sun–are expanding their foothold unchecked everyday, and so called “nature paths” are a lawsuit waiting to happen.   

In the shadow of a twenty-story condominium, my children and I read the trailhead sign, “Caution: proceed at your own risk; this is a nature trail.”  We glanced suspiciously around at the watershed area protected–or maybe contained–by a chainlink fence and ventured forth.  This was the shortest part of our hike.  If I had been texting my partner at the time to ask if I should enter this apparent natural hazard, I would have missed it.  

Listen to the podcast:

One of the most beautiful aspects of the forest, though, is that it never ceases to move me toward lighter and freer thoughts.  Leaning on the black iron railing that ran the length of the nature trail, my children and I were overcome with laughter as we faked slipping off the path to our death or pretended to be ravaged by mutant squirrels.  To be fair, we did identify one spot where a natural outcropping of tree roots would have caused Stephen Hawking to slow his wheelchair as he passed over them.  We even took a photo in case we wanted to sue later for the emotional trauma we suffered.

img_4706Another part of my D.C. hike included a forest I couldn’t see for the tree.  In the middle of a construction zone, workers had sectioned off a space the size of a vending tent and posted it with signs that read, “Forest Retention Area.”  Here I am forced to look up the word ‘forest’ to make sure I’m not crazy.  “Forest: a large tract of land covered with trees and underbrush; woodland.”  Ah, but what can I expect in a country that gives us names like “Citizens United,” a Koch family-funded political action committee that supports corporate interests in our government. Or The “USA Freedom Act” that weakens our rights to privacy under the Fourth Amendment.

A few days before, I couldn’t wait to get to D.C..  As a hobby-anthropologist–otherwise known as a writer–I find D.C. a beautiful melting pot of every culture on earth, a pot that one can be nearly starved for while living in Vermont’s homogenous gene pool.  D.C.’s taste in clothing aside–which ranges from gray to black–our nation’s capital is not just diverse, it’s an inspiration to principles that seem in short supply.  In the Library of Congress, I found a plaque that gave me hope because it wouldn’t be easily removed no matter how many times our Bill of Rights or scientifically proven facts were gutted by political and religious agendas.  It said,

img_4786“The inquiry, knowledge, and belief of truth is the sovereign good of human nature.”  

The idea that the search for truth is the highest ideal of humankind will need to be remembered when our current political wave has been sucked back into the dark vacuum from which it came.

Despite its good points, hiking in D.C. can be annoying. When I left, I was ready to cinch my boots tight and hike without waiting at a traffic light or standing in line for a bathroom.  I wanted to be immersed in frigid temperatures as I marched up a hillside and felt that I was stronger than the weather, bolder than the mindset induced by fear mongering signs, and more clever than the fog of mistruth that surrounds our government and media right now.

My time in concreteville told me my thick skin was more translucent than I thought, though.  I needed a break from the human dream that we are collectively imagining.  Carried forward by our herd mentality, we humans have a need to join and be like others in a way that seems far more influential than our need to be clear about what is real and what is not, what is good and what is not, what is ultimately fulfilling and what is not.  We have no grounding point in a sea of ideas other than the dynamic general consensus.  When that sea is being bombarded by people with self-serving agendas that we–in our human condition–are predisposed to trust and believe in, what do we firmly hold onto that tells us if we are okay or not?

Me? I hold onto the forest.  Among the trees, I find peace and solace in an upside-down world.  So just remember, if you’re daring to venture into a Forest Retention Area, you fail to do so at your own risk.


Adam’s Approach


I took a hike today, a two hour excursion. I had dropped off my youngest–2 yrs old–to my partner and kept driving up the road; a mere fifteen minutes and I was out in no man’s land. I took a wet and rocky road up a mountain with the Sub. It scraped bottom a few times and I think I finished cracking off the front bumper–the under part that had smashed into sidewalks and snow banks left by plows at the end of our driveway.

Driving through town, it was a mild day of 40 degrees and most of the November snow had melted. A woman waddled down the street, her neon blue big gulp in hand, well on her way to a self-induced government-subsided case of diabetes. My sympathy dies when l see those kinds of choices, but then I think about sugar being eight times more addicting than cocaine and I have nothing to say in defense of my asshole opinion.

Today my head was filled with numbers and problems but no solutions and my mood felt like a molding slug. Being a writer or any artist really sucks sometimes, and trying to make it pay sucks even worse. But the moment of writing is like sucking on a big gulp, I guess, so I was in search of the answers that would keep that cocaine on steroids a part of my daily life. I knew I could find it if I just got my blood moving.

I finally reached an area I didn’t dare take the Sub. Like trump with a model, I was abusive but not out to kill her–at least not so far. Besides, the road split and the branch where I wanted to go was blocked off with both a gate and a river. I marked it as a waypoint on my GPS. In the future I would bring my bike and cross the river with it–loggers had smoothed it out pretty well.

To cross, I settled for a balancing stick and a fallen tree followed by a scramble over stone. I was in sneakers and I didn’t want to get them wet. The climate was different here from town. An inch of snow remained, but everything was white washed and clad in beauty. I’d waited days to be out where I couldn’t hear chainsaws or truck motors–or for that matter other people’s voices. I was alone.

I nearly ran up the road like an exuberant elf. A short ways in, I found a forgotten homestead by the river’s divide. All that remained was the thrusting foundation of a house and the bones of a large ninteenth century barn–at one end was an indent that may have held water where it would be kept from freezing in the winter. The farmer was ambitious, or maybe inspired. The area was a small haven, forest and wildlife on every side, this glade a sizable field, with enough water nearby to run a mill. I was looking for similar inspiration, but some leading to a longer legacy.

I kept walking. The snow was getting slowly deeper. I wish I had worn boots, but I knew I didn’t have long to hike before I needed to return to family responsibilities and avoid the early darkness. I had half-an-hour more. I put all that junk out of my mind. I looked at the GPS. I was hunting for an “easy” way to the top of Adam’s mountain that was short. So far so good. The road was bikeable here. Even if I didn’t bike up it with a full pack this spring, coming down would be quick in case of emergency–like ripping my leg open because I was practicing my yogini’s tree pose on the edge of a precipice.

Whatever problems I thought I had dissolved into the wafer-brittle cold air when they were sweat out. I came to a halt later than I should have when the snow was plunging over the top of my shoes, but it was okay; I’d found what I was looking for. To the south west, the woods opened up into sparse deciduous trees climbing a reasonable slope towards Adam’s Mountain. The ridge above would provide an unmistakable guide to the top some other day.

On the way down, blood moving, my brain found the first step toward untwisting the life puzzles in front of me. Answers, adventure and health all in a two hour hike that didn’t cost me a dime. Not a bad deal.