We walked the Stub Lake hiking trail on Saturday. The season of Autumn had already begun to change. Hours after the shorelines began to be dotted with some of the most beautiful colors of the year, those colors, those leaves that took an entire Summer to mature, began to fall.
Indeed, they were crunchy underneath.
I was struck with the weight of the temporary all around. I was also struck with the sense of loss now present, where, hope of new life and all things that spring forth eternal were predominant the last time we were on this trail together. March seventh to be exact. Like this past Saturday, I took some photos and some video, not by accident in some of the same places, to share with you.
The Stub Lake trail is fairly moderate, depending on the season and the depth and age of the snow if present. There are rocks that can be slippery and dangerous after a rain or a frost-covered morning. There are roots, not unlike every portage in the Boundary Waters I’ve ever been on, that reach up and grab at the toes of your boot or sandal when you drift off and begin enjoying the scenery. The elevation changes are minimal and the views around each bend and minor switchback always have something new and unexpected.
As we walked, I pondered how it was roughly the same temperature as it had been on that March day. How different 50 something can seem when it is the first time you experience it after a long, frigid winter than when the back of your mind is tickled with the thought that this could be one of the last times you reach close to 60 degrees and it is only early October.
Snow was everywhere that March day. It was wet and caused my big feet to slip and slide out from under me if I wasn’t careful to stay on the hard packed footsteps that had gone before me. I felt unstable on my feet like a newborn fawn on fragile, gangling legs. Now I felt sure on my feet and yet the number of freshly fallen leaves was adding a layer of unsureness to the cool and sometimes sharp rocks and roots underneath.
Through the leaves and forest you could glimpse the twinkling blue of first Fall and then Stub Lakes and this too was different than March, when the views without leaves only afforded more white. It would have been two months before the many feet of ice retreated from either lake then.
The squirrels were noisy in the woods now, busy and rushed as they were months ago. Our Dog, Mr. David Byrne, spent more time with his nose to the ground than when there was snow. He startled up Grouse more than once and was intimidated by the scents of black bear and timberwolf that had passed this way before us. In March, the bear were still asleep but I did find wold tracks clearly left in the snow.
Both hikes afforded plenty of time to soak it all in. This usually happens to me soon after the branches and leaves of the path I’m on fold in behind us and we are enveloped in the rooms of the forest. It happens quicker if I’m not on a portage or a hiking trail and just find myself walking in the woods. A walk in the woods. That’s what this was.
For me this sensation is always similar to taking a shower after working very hard at something outdoors, a project, a building of something or a tearing down, a demo job, an afternoon cleaning up the garden and/or mowing the lawn and trimming trees. The kind of dirty and grimy you get when you clean out your garage after forty years or move a parent and sort through 70 plus years of accumulated memories. The kind of dirty that you don’t even know that you feel after its been too long since you’ve found yourself in the woods. Even if you’ve just literally gotten out of the shower. The forest has cleansing properties. It did when I was a kid and it seems to even more today.
Perhaps it is all that oxygen that the trees are producing. A literal filtration is happening all around us. A soaking up of what we put out, what we exhale and a life-giving production of what we need with each breath that we are gifted on this earth. Here’s another breath, whisper the trees, here’s another. We’re glad you came. Look at this, look over here, watch out for that, looook aaat ttthissss…
There’s not really silence and solitude under this canopy of colorful flags blowing in the wind. There’s a symphony all around. Sure it’s void of industry and technology and stress that accompanies all things job and all things electronic communication (if you unplug before you step into it). However, it’s a happening place. Birds, wildlife, water running, leaves falling, trees creaking in the wind and brushing against each other, not to mention the soft crunch of each falling footstep.
It takes me back to days spent outdoors when I was under ten. Days so bright with new color and new discoveries that by eyes would hurt when I returned to the house. Not quite the same as the ache you experience from too much “screen time” today. These were days of exploration and rewards of new waterfalls, a list of first-seen-birds two pages long, the cold waters of a spring-fed creek that bubbled out of a valley green with moss and bright with Lady Slippers and Jack-in-the-Pulpits, rich with a cotton bandana filled with Morel mushrooms, near one-sided conversations with a Red Fox and a feral house cat… Days that burned out into nights lit only by fireflies and filtered starlight under the crown of the forest. Days as the poet, Billy Collins describes them, when “I used to believe there was nothing under my skin but light. If you cut me I could shine.”
We’ve all fallen and scraped our knees and discovered the untruth of that line, however sure of it we once may have been. But a walk in the woods, though, no matter how short or fleeting the accompanying colors might be, that still cleanses and refreshes like nothing else. Sitting down against a moss covered stump and chewing the stem of a tall grass seed and slipping into the “nap zone” still results in some of your best dreams realized.