Walk in the woods

clearest-wayThe snow drifts, layered like a deck of stacked cards during this unrelenting winter season, are finally succumbing to nature. Or so I am told. The frozen north is slowly transitioning from snow and ice to puddles of water, maybe more like small lakes. The anguish of prolonged indoor confinement is being replaced with the hope of fluttering butterflies, budding blossoms, and the warmth of spring. Hope springs eternal, in different ways for different people. While our northern compatriots are yearning for a rise in the mercury, I am clinging to the last few days of cooler weather before the heat and humidity settle in for the Florida summer.

It’s Saturday morning. Sitting on my back porch, I look into my coffee cup, steam rising through the dollop of whipped cream floating on the top. I inhale the scent of fresh java and feel inspired. This may be one of the final weekends of the season to enjoy the delightful weather that Mother Nature reserves for the winter months in Florida. Today, I decide to commune with nature through the majestic pine trees of Welaka State Forest.

Historically, I have a propensity to plan. Like, every single hour of the day. Thankfully, my spurts of spontaneity are becoming more frequent and leak out just when it is needed the most. The location of today’s expedition carries me two and a half hours north of my home base. The very loosely defined plan is to hike about three miles into the wilderness, towards the undisturbed shores of the St. John’s River, and camp overnight.

Upon reaching the trail-head, I anchor the thirty five pounds of necessary gear in my backpack around my hips and over my shoulders. As I set forth on this solo adventure, my mind is perpetually hunting for the next orange blaze painted on the trees to insure I remain on the right path. With more focus on staying the course, per se, my mind is tangled in the logistics of the hike instead of the captivating displays of nature surrounding me. The ironic thing is that being alone out in the forest allows one to recognize this preoccupation. One deep breath of crisp forest air persuaded me to let go, exhale, and utilize my five senses to consume everything bestowed upon me.

I suppose there is a fine line between completely letting go and remaining at least peripherally aware of your surroundings. After two hours of lightheartedly placing one foot in front of the other, I looked on the ground to find a most familiar sight, my own footprints. After three miles of carefree trekking along this tranquil forest path, I had come full circle, quite literally, walking in a complete loop to my point of origin.

With the sun slipping closer to the horizon, there was no longer enough daylight to safely make a second attempt in finding the primitive campsite by the river as intended. Disappointed, and slightly embarrassed, I lumbered towards my car for a return trip home. Once en route, however, a peaceful sort of feeling washed over me. I didn’t accomplish what I originally set out to do. Did that mean my experience had to hold any less significance? Do we always need to achieve what we intend in order for it to make a difference?

I reflected on my mood throughout the day. I had thirty five pounds on my back, but I felt as light as a feather. I was caressed by soaring pine trees on either side of me as I navigated farther from civilization. The stimulus for my senses was subtle, yet revitalizing. The crunch of fallen pine needles beneath my feet, the flash of red as a male cardinal crosses my path. The kindly visit from serendipity as I watch a young doe prance across the trail aptly named Deer Run.

wander-lostSometimes we need to follow a well-charted path. And more often we need to wander, into nature and within ourselves. Over the course of those two hours, I hadn’t taken a single thing out of my backpack. And yet, in the end, it felt lighter. Like a huge weight had been lifted from my shoulders. All that is gold does not glitter, not all those who wander are lost. Wandering through that forest, getting lost while meandering gently through the depths of my mind. It may not have glittered, but it certainly was golden.


14 thoughts on “Walk in the woods

  1. Michelle Mueller March 13, 2014 / 10:09 am

    My favorite Tolkien quote. And a wonderful, poetic way to end your thoughts. Wandering can often lead us to the most unexpected places within ourselves. Even if you didn’t accomplish what you set out to do, it seems that you accomplished other things in a way you hadn’t previously intended. Which is just as fulfilling. Glad to read you are enjoying the last of the ‘cooler’ Florida weather. As I hail from southern Alabama, I know what kind of heat and humidity the summer months will bring. Anyway, a wonderful read, as always.

    • davecenker March 13, 2014 / 10:52 am

      Thank you Michelle, the unexpected occurrences in our lives often end up being the most memorable and gratifying. I was fortunate enough to experience yet another one of these yesterday evening with my family in the backyard, perhaps the subject of a future post πŸ˜‰

      Thank you, as always, for stopping by and adding to the story. Your insights and comments are always appreciated!

  2. Cymbria Wood March 13, 2014 / 4:36 pm

    Just yesterday I missed a goal and found myself asking the same questions. I decided, quite firmly, that the answer to both was “NO!” But only if you make sure to take conscious moments along the journey to connect with your motivations, aspirations and (perhaps most importantly) your surroundings~

    Gosh darn (s’cuse my language lol) you really are a wonderful writer πŸ™‚

    • davecenker March 14, 2014 / 8:11 am

      Thank you for your very kind words Cymbria. I tend to find myself easily distracted by hustle and bustle going on around me. Whether it’s a ringing telephone in the distance, an e-mail notification in my inbox, or a chatty colleague down the hall. It is moments such as these, where it is quiet, in my surroundings and in my mind, that I am able to find myself. And the more I find myself in these situations, the more I realize how we really do have the choice to take a conscious moment, as you say, and connect. In the end, connection is so vital. Thanks for the inspiring comment and best wishes for an inspired day πŸ˜‰

      • Cymbria Wood March 14, 2014 / 3:00 pm

        Oh, those “chatty colleagues” – the stories I could tell lol! So many people think you have to be a hard-core Buddhist or something to learn how to connect with the moment. We just have make that choice and believe it has value – then suddenly, we’re there! I just wish I had your landscape to practice these connections. The comfortable chaos of nature is such a brilliant training ground for the mind.

  3. lindseysurratt March 13, 2014 / 7:26 pm

    This was a wonderful post and also included one of my favorite quotes. I’ve been wandering throughout life for the past couple years and it’s taught me so much about myself and how I view the world. Thank you for sharing! πŸ™‚

    • davecenker March 14, 2014 / 8:14 am

      Thank you, as always, Lindsey πŸ˜‰ It is rather ironic that my wife just purchased a window decal for her car with this same Tolkien quote. It seems to have resurfaced in my life at just the right moment. Amazing how the universe conspires to send you the message you most need to hear πŸ˜‰ Thank you for sharing your thoughts and keep wandering!

  4. RieWriting March 15, 2014 / 6:14 am

    Hi Dave, quite ironic hey. You are hoping to hang onto the cooler weather and here I am in the UK hoping for things to warm up. I agree with Cymbria about enjoying the moment, it wasn’t the destination that was important here at all. Great piece πŸ™‚

    • davecenker March 17, 2014 / 8:18 am

      This was certainly one of those moments that spoke to the journey and not destination paradigm πŸ˜‰ Thank you for your kind comments and best wishes for more pleasant weather in your near future πŸ˜‰

  5. apartmentwife March 17, 2014 / 2:52 pm

    “And more often we need to wander, into nature and within ourselves.” Ah, such a lovely read, and so very very true. It’s important to realize that you set out not for the destination, but for the adventure and the chance of exploration. If you find that exploration in yourself, then you achieved your goal, right?

    • davecenker March 17, 2014 / 3:18 pm

      Absolutely, I couldn’t have said it better myself πŸ˜‰ Thanks for sharing and best wishes for many rewarding adventures and explorations of your own.

  6. Pingback: Brave | davecenker
  7. MJ March 26, 2014 / 9:14 am

    Loved your last paragraph, and I have to agree, for us planners (guilty as charged) to let go and give in to spontaneity, to allow things to not finish (omg!), to allow ourselves to wander without destination (or not reach it), though I admit can be very uncomfortable, is absolutely freeing. Your posts always hit home with me Dave. Thank you!!

    • davecenker March 26, 2014 / 10:44 am

      Thank you for your thoughtful and honest comment. I am constantly struggling with a balance between routine and spontaneity. There are certainly times for both, but I find that when I have the courage to invoke my spontaneous nature more often, that is where the internal goose bumps rise to the surface πŸ˜‰

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