My favorite walks are November walks in the woods. The leaves stir underfoot, announcing your progress for those who would listen. And I have no doubt they listen. Deer, fox, squirrels and rabbits for sure, and many more I don’t consider. But I’m not here for them today, I’m here for the land, and the productive solitude it offers.
I don’t take the time to understand people that don’t walk in the woods. There’s nothing to understand, really. You either come alive in the woods or you remain detached and resistant. Some people come alive shopping for bargains, a place where I’m detached and resistant, so I know that we all have our element. Mine is the woods.
I walk on and come across wintergreen in a sea of brown oak leaves, which reminds me of Carlisle, Massachusetts and the Great Brook Farm State Park. I pick a leaf, snap it in two and smell the minty freshness. Memories of wintergreen moments from years ago invade my mind for a moment, and I smile and release them with the folded leaf.
I walk slowly through the woods; I’ve already reached my destination. I’m here to see not to get somewhere. Climbing a rise I wonder at the moss-covered granite ledge. Ferns cling to the moss, catching oak leaves that only wanted to fly. Will they return to the earth, or feed the ferns right here on the granite? That’s a question for time.
Conservation land offers familiarity without risk. Risk that this will become yet another housing development. It’s a friend that won’t be betrayed like that friend down the street was. The land has been betrayed before, you see it in the walls and cellar holes. It may be again someday, but in conservation there’s hope for more permanence. At the very least these woods should outlast me in some form. Still, there are no guarantees: Even these woods show signs of recent harvesting.
I turn back towards home. The days are short now and I have things to do. But I pause once again for the hemlocks. For all the bare trees in the November woods, a few remain evergreen. My favorite is the hemlock, with their lacy green limbs riding the breeze. These limbs fold down neatly under snow load, while the oaks stoically resist. This means the oaks stand naked in November while the hemlocks still proudly wear their deep green dress. A case for being flexible under stressful conditions, it seems. So I stay still, watching one limb bouncing above a stone wall that stand tired but proud amongst the clutter of fallen late autumn leaves. It reminds me of an Irish step dance on a carpet of oak leaves in a granite hall. I reluctantly walk on from this performance for an audience of one with a nod to the performer. And I’m awake once again.