I desperately needed time in the woods today. Lately there had been too much time spent in urban centers, too much time spent in cars, too much plane travel, too much time away. I find it necessary to stay in tune with what the birds are doing. I find comfort in their activities. The simple beauty of their lifestyle makes sense to me. I hear the sweet rhythm in how they live. But when I turn my ear to my fellow human beings I hear erratic discordant noise. The unpredictability of it all sets me on edge. I watch the birds search for food and then I watch people drive faster and faster in metal boxes along strips of pavement. Where is the sense in that? Birds seek food and shelter, they travel to warmer climes for winter, and back north again to raise families. People walk through the woods, coarse and loud, talking crassly on their cell phones. We violate the places where wildlife struggle to make their homes, over and over in increasingly egregious ways. When I enter the woods, I think of it as a chapel. Here we are silent, here we are respectful, here we do our best to make a minimal impact. Here we observe quietly. The birds are easier to see in the fall as the trees shed their leaves. But it’s harder to sneak up on them, when you are crunching on those fallen leaves. It was a perfect day to be in the woods. The golden light spread through the trees and fell upon everything below. I soaked it up. I rested and recovered. I breathed deep. And then I strode unwillingly back out into the madness.

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  1. Their life is full of madness too. If it seems simple its just because we don’t speak their language. If you think all they do is eat sleep and migrate then watch a flock of crows gathering during this time of year. They scream incessantly, whirl above the chosen tree, fight over branch position, and generally expend a lot of energy on tasks that (seemingly) have nothing to do with the basic necessities of life.None of that means that you shouldn’t be calmed by watching them. Watching them does allow us to mediate on the simplicity of a life lived on the edge of survival. But we shouldn’t take that to mean their lives are so much more simple than ours, just as ours aren’t actually as complicated as all of the cars, highways and cell phones make them seem.

  2. Well, I think we both know I’m aware of the complexities of birds’ lives. But I was oversimplifying in order to make an implicit point. I stand by the idea that virtually every activity a bird engages in, however confusing it may look to us, informs one goal: its own survival. That is how nature is wired. And I happen to think that there is a simple poignant beauty in having a single overarching theme governing one’s existence. I don’t know of many humans that can claim that, with the exception of certain religious zealots. Not being a particularly spiritual man myself, except in the vaguest of ways, I am at a loss then when confronted with the current world around me. I see much in the part of the world built by humans that bothers and disturbs me. I try to live simply, but my life is needlessly complicated by the activities of my fellow humans. I have little control over my immediate surroundings. If I want to go walk in the woods near my house, I have no choice but to simultaneously listen to a chainsaw, a highway, and an airplane flying overhead. If I want to ride my bike down a country road, I have no choice but to be sideswiped by some jerk in an SUV. In our society today, in this first world nation, those of us who aren’t poor don’t make a lot of daily decisions directly based on our own survival. We make a lot of them on whims. We almost take our own survival for granted. Our minds are occupied by other things. Many people’s minds are occupied with thinking of ways to make more money, and this affects all of us, whether we like it or not. I happen to not like it, and it bothers me greatly that I have to live amongst those who do. Someday perhaps I won’t have to, but until then, I’ll continue my critique and my lament.

  3. “When I enter the woods, I think of it as a chapel. Here we are silent, here we are respectful, here we do our best to make a minimal impact. Here we observe quietly.”You somehow pulled this directly out of my head. I’ve become increasingly convinced that I’m the only person who feels this in the woods, what with all the chatters, joggers, and cell-phone blatherers who hit the trails these days. Why do they bother going to the woods? Why not just find a sidewalk somewhere? It’s reassuring to find there’s someone out there who feels the same reverence I do.



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