Walking just a few steps from the nature center, you find yourself on the trail, but the path is obscured by dusty brown and vibrant yellow leaves, which continue to fall, dancing in the air. They are in no hurry, gracefully making their way, covering the entirety of the forest floor. A few land in the nearby creek, and are quietly swept away.
The trail winds through dense trees, then makes a sharp turn, to avoid depositing you into a deep ravine. You walk along the ridge, careful not to make a misstep. You can’t hear the forest, over the loud crunching of leaves under your hiking boots, so you pause for a moment, close your eyes, breathe in the musty air of early November, and just listen. . . to discover what your hike through park, on this trail, has to offer.
Henry David Thoreau knew that there were good reasons to head into the woods, seeking solitude, and a quiet place for contemplation. In 1854, with the publication of Walden (or, Life in the Woods), he documented his time in nature, surrounded by the trees, the streams, the wildlife. There were many quiet moments, as he spent just over 2 years living alone, secluded from others, on Walden Pond.
“When I wrote the following pages, or rather the bulk of them, I lived alone, in the woods, a mile from any neighbor, in a house which I had built myself, on the shore of Walden Pond, in Concord, Massachusetts, and earned my living by the labor of my hands only. I lived there two years and two months. At present I am a sojourner in civilized life again.”(Walden, by Henry David Thoreau)
On my own hike, just before twilight, I make note of the fact that fall is not the time I’m typically on the local hiking trails. Hikes are what I reserve for winter! In recent years I’ve been on my bike as often as possible during the September – November months, before the cold and snow descend upon Ohio. A shoulder injury has me “grounded” from going on longer cycling adventures, so hiking season has extended into these rich, fragrant, colorful months.
Today, the trees are what have drawn me out into nature, and I’m happy to be here. Why didn’t I think of this sooner? A walk becomes a walking meditation, surrounded by the early evening light. I make sure I have a flashlight available, in case I get carried away, and find myself far out on the trail just after dusk, when the park rangers are clearing the picnic areas and the nature center is closed for the day.
I’ve been reading “Why Buddhism is True: The Science and Philosophy of Meditation and Enlightenment”, by Robert Wright. Recently I sat on a bench, when I arrived at the park and realized that I was early for a group hike. I spent the time reading, and reflecting for a few moments – I picked up a fallen leaf, yellow with the spirit of fall, and pressed it between the pages of the book. It’s much too delicate to be a bookmark, but for now it marks my place.
Looking up at the canopy of color overhead, I know it won’t last long, as the seasons continue to change. I imagine Thoreau’s 2-year solo adventure, experiencing the beauty of the forest, through every season. There’s a momentary hush around me. . . but then the air fills back up with sound – squirrels are playing hide and seek in the underbrush, birds are chattering and taunting one another overhead, and I appreciate the crunch of leaves and snap of twigs, under my own feet.
I’m at Highbanks Metro Park, in Columbus, OH where there are 1,200 acres of protected area to explore, just north of the city’s major metro area.
- Biking, Canoeing, Cross Country Skiing, Day Camps, Fishing, Picnicking, Sledding
- Natural Play Areas & Educational Nature Center
- Pets allowed in select areas
“Highbanks is named for its massive 100-foot-high shale bluff towering over the Olentangy State Scenic River. Tributary streams cutting across the bluff have created a number of deep ravines in the eastern part of the 1,200-acre park. Ohio and Olentangy shales, often containing outstanding large concretions, are exposed on the bluff face and sides of the ravines.”(Metro Parks website)
Off-trail activities are prohibited in the area of the park designated as a Nature Preserve, and the land surrounding the restored wetland and wetland viewing deck are off-limits to visitors, but there are over 14 miles of trails, including Dripping Rock and Eagle View trails. An overlook deck, on the edge of the Olentangy State Scenic River, gives hikers a chance to search for a nesting bald eagle, and the trail to get there takes hikerspast Prehistoric Earthworks and Adena Mounds, hidden back in the trees.
The historic sites are easy to miss, if hikers don’t take the time to read the signs posted around the park, or follow the park map. The truth is,with so many trails interconnecting, it’s easy for someone like me to lose their bearings. The Indian mounds may have served as burial sites, but the purpose of the earthworks is unknown. The earth has been formed into what looks like a barricade, and I wonder what it was protecting, within this earthen wall, and what it was being protected against.
“The Highbanks Earthwork is located along the western edge in the southern section. The trail leading to the Overlook Deck passes through an opening in the wall. . . This type of earthwork is distinctly different from the more formal earthen wall enclosures found throughout Ohio that have a very precise geometric shape.” (Metro Parks website)
Close to sunset, I run into a young couple that is straining to contain the energy and excitement of their Boxer and Pitbull mix. He’s eager to say hello, smother me with kisses, and wag his tail. I’m glad to be on the front end of the dog, where there is no danger of being soundly beaten, by that enthusiastically wagging tail. When he’d had enough of me, he pulls at the leash again, saying “Let’s go!”
They had lost their way, after over an hour of hiking, and asked me which path led back to the park entrance. The quickest route was one that does not allow pets, but with the light fading quickly, they took the most direct route back to the car, as this was the safest alternative.
With just a bit of light remaining, I find a quiet spot where I can sit for a few minutes.
I take a deep breath in, through my nose, pulling in the positive energy of the forest, and the pungent smell of earth, and wet rocks, and the decay that comes with autumn. I breathe out through my mouth, expelling tension, anxiousness, and the stress of the day. I’ve been reading a section of “Why Buddhism is True” each morning, over my first cup of coffee, and trying to fit a short meditation practice into my day, every day.
I breathe in again, deeply, and feel lucky that I live near such a beautiful, contemplative place. I breathe out, forcefully, once again expelling negativity and tension. I close my eyes for a moment, and notice myself wondering where my travels will take me over the next couple of months. I take notice that my mind has wandered, then focus once again on my breath, settling into my meditation.
Join me on my next adventure,
Walden or, Life in the Woods by Henry David Thoreau: http://www.eldritchpress.org/walden5.pdf
Highbanks Metro Park: http://www.metroparks.net/parks-and-trails/highbanks/
Touring Ohio: The Heart of America: http://touringohio.com/index.html
The History of Ohio, in 2,000 words: http://touringohio.com/history.html
Adena Mounds I & II, Highbanks Earthwork: http://touringohio.com/history/highbanks.html
Why Buddhism is True: The Science and Philosophy of Meditation and Enlightenment, by Robert Wright: http://whybuddhismistrue.net/