Sunday, May 4, 2014

A Walk in the Woods

It is Spring here on the East Coast. Pollen is falling as thickly as the snow fell this winter. My car is now a gilded grey color, shimmering in the strong afternoon sun. My sinuses are packed tight, and mostly, I want to sleep, even with the weeds in my back mud patch calling to me to come kill them and complete their circle of life. As well, the sad plastic bag full of dead hostas that my sister harvested for me... last spring... are erupting again. What is it the poet said?
April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Good ol' Eliot. Apparently, he, too, spent the last six months in DCs gridlock of ice and snow and cold and this past week in April watching roads wash out and sink holes form. (And judgy hostas grow in one's back patio and mudpatch.) (Or more to the point, not in the mudpatch, rather in a plastic bag, feeding on last year's dead.)
So, of course, in order to escape the green glare from my garden, I drove (was driven) to the mountains. To look at wild flowers. A lovely day out with friends, something I regularly do, just with less dirt, steep declines, rocks or Solomon's Seal, either false or true, but unknown because the ones we saw were being coy and refusing to flower and thus declare themselves one or the other. But I can do new things. Walking in the mud, looking at flowers, wondering if I'll see a bear. I was going to be a regular Wild Flower Tourer. Tourist?
Except I wasn't. Oh, the hike was lovely. The first hour. Tromping down the steep trail, somewhere in the Blue Ridge. Thinking, is this the Appalachian trail? Cos there's no way I'd be doing this with a full backpack. The company was great. Friends are always the best thing to carry with you into the woods, more important than bug spray or water.  But I'm not terribly sure-footed, and spent a lot of time watching every step so I may have missed the skunk cabbage and orchis.
Our guide would stop over some leafy patch, point at it with the borrowed walking staff, and say "That's a May Apple. It is past its blooming period." "That's Rue Anemone (or Meadow Rue) (I think two different flowers) (one of which apparently the heroine of The Hunger Games is named for)" "That's mustard" and each time, I thought, those are green leaves. I did recognize some lovely bright yellow violets and deep purple violets, but only heard tell of the elusive green violets. 
And because I am who I am, the home-dweller on the run from her bagged hostas, my mind wandered as I plodded from rock to stick to earth. I was back with the early settlers, wondering who harvested the wild parsnip and carrot? And was the Sweet Cecily gathered by cooks or herbalists? I imagined the struggle to survive in that steep rocky terrain, let alone dealing with bears and skunk cabbage and poison ivy. What if this was a RomCom? Then the guide wouldn't have been a middle aged woman, but a hawt guy with great shoulders who carried bugspray and BandAids. I'd still be in New Shoes, but my top would show more cleavage, and the group would have shrunk from 12 to two, and would include a night in the woods without poison ivy, bad breath, or the need to tinkle.
And then I wondered, where are the dead bodies? Wouldn't this be a good place to dump them? There was a deer carcass picked completely clean, the rib cage empty beside the skull. Zombies, I suppose.

What do you think of on your rambles through the woods? Are you a nature lover who communes with the Divine or do you plot your next murder? Whatever you do, I hope your Spring is spent in the open sunshine, where pollen lightly gilds you and your heart and mind are stirred back to life.


  1. Marjanna! What a completely wonderful piece. Your voice is fabulous and the whole thing carried me in your pocket on your trek, and even scarier for this 'inside cat', into your head! You must, must, must get some more ficiton writing done. Or do a column for the Post. Or something! As for what I think about when I trek...when is lunch? What is that bug? What is that noise? Are we home yet? XXX

  2. Marjanna ~ What a lovely reflection on our flower walk in the woods on Saturday! Love it!! I'm a natural communer. (Apparently that's not a word because spellcheck is highlighting it.) Well, I'm a natural when I'm not with 11 of my closest friends. ;0) For some reason I am closest to God when I'm outdoors. We (He and I) both know that. Not that I heed the call as much as I should, because, alas, life is messy and complicated.

    I usually do find that when I'm walking alone outdoors, my mind does wander, and I do plot stories or figure out a sticking point on my current WIP. It's the way I most prefer to work out hard issues--either in story or in my life.

    Thanks for posting this delightful, insightful reflection on our ramble in the woods. Enjoyed reading it! Write on, friend. ;0)

  3. Still bummed I missed the hike, but like you, Mx, my mind tends to wander off the trail and into storyland. Mostly in a "where are the dead bodies" direction!

    Sounds like a lovely day and another learning experience: Hiking, okay for one hour. Check.

  4. Marjanna! Thanks for writing about our hike. It was a learning experience on many levels (and leaves). I have never put so much attention on plants, shoots, and leaves. Focusing on small things is a good thing for me to practices.
    I also learned that I should do more of it!

  5. Fabulous post, Marjanna, and it sounds like you had a fabulous day. What do I think about in the woods? I'm a woods wanderer from way back (childhood in the country) and nowadays I always think I'm going to come across some poisonous herb to work into a story or work out the kinks in some heroine's arc. The truth is I never do. I always end up in some stream of consciousness about pioneers. But then, it hits me! That plot point I needed. It seems like in nature I end up turning my brain off and as a result, my mind works naturally and I can take fresh thoughts back to the city. Good stuff!

  6. Emelle, thank you for your comment! And I would have carried you in my pocket. Of course, I wish I'd also carried a granola bar in my pocket! I cannot tell you how ready I was for the lunch that followed.

  7. Thanks, Mackenzie. I always found walking was the best for prayer, but not so much hiking cos I keep losing my train of thought as I try not to trip on yet another rock. But it was a good day. Even if I did want to check behind the fallen trees for bodies.

  8. Keely, we missed you. It was an interesting group of women. But I do find getting out of my environment opens up my ideas for story, and if I ever get back to the one set in the Blue Ridge, this will be good fodder.

  9. Thank you, Nichole! Funny how plants and murder and dead bodies come to mind for so many of us. We passed a group from the Audebon society who were sitting with notebooks, painstakingly recording what they saw seemingly leaf to leaf. I cannot imagine what I directly saw being, well, it. Sure, I love that indigenous plants are still thriving and that kudzu hasn't killed it all. But when I see wild parsnip, I wonder, who though to pull the first one? And by the time those mountain settlers had settled, how and why did they decide to continue living such hardscrabble lives?
    But I like your comment that allowing your mind to turn off and simply be in the woods allows you to find your metaphorical way out of them in your writing.