Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Walking In The Woods, A Few Observations

I am prone to making obvious observations when confronted by the grandeur of nature. Such as, "Wow, it's dark." And, "Dude, you can actually see stars when there aren't any street lights." Sometimes I make very City Mouse remarks, like, "That tree is as taller than my building."

So a few more observations from today's 2 hour hike:

  • I am not Survivorman, but hking with a big walking stick (with a compass embedded), a digital compass, and carrying a Swiss Army knife can make a city girl feel like quite the outdoorswoman.
  • Carrying all that junk helps you feel safer in the woods, along with an energy bar, water, bandaids, and a few matches.
  • It is ridiculous to think of nature as pretty and docile, even as developers have cut ever higher above sea level and ever deeper into the coast itself. I come from the land of mudslides, earthquakes and firestorms that regularly wipe out million dollar homes. I like being here, and this is really very tame (lots of paved trails/roads)--but still, nature scares me. Especially at night, when it's just me in the house and the rattling sounds are more likely to be animals than humans. It's kind of scary. Why shouldn't it be? No one in modern civilization ever "goes back" to nature--we are mere visitors when we are not encroachers. Every time I look at those "Back to Basics" natural care products at the drug store, I just think "Grizzly Man." Werner Herzog's documentary about a man who thought that he could be a part of nature but ended up being (literally) ravaged by it. I have no illusions about how long I would survive if I ever got truly lost in the woods. I think, maybe, a couple of hours. And then I would really freak out and do something even more stupid that got me further lost/injured/dead. Don't mess with nature.
  • That said, it's not like you can't enjoy it. I've been using my eyes and ears more lately. There are many different types of birds here, and I wish I was an ornithologist so that I could identify them. I wish I was a botanist, so that I could tell apart the different types of trees. I notice that the squirrels here are much skinnier than the ones in the city, probably because they have to work for their food.
  • At night, I can hear everything. But that's when I get kind of freaked out about being alone and turn up the radio too, so I don't hear anything. I spend a lot of time alone in the city, but this is a different kind of alone. A lonelier kind.
  • Sometimes, if you look up at the right moment, you'll see a leaf detach, and begin a gentle descent to the earth, dancing and swaying in the wind as it falls.
  • Sometimes, if you're not looking up, the falling leaves hit you in the head.
  • Ditto for pine cones.
  • Dogs can be mean. Even when you try to establish dominance and lack of fear and "presence" to the dog like Cesar Milan, The Dog Whisperer , they chase you and growl at you and generally freak you out. Especially if you're not an animal person.
  • Moss really does grow on the north side of the tree, except in the shadiest parts of the forest, where it grows all around the tree. So don't rely on that for direction. Recognize your human limitations, that you are not Survivorman, that you are not a great "tracker," and bring along a digital compass.
  • The one time you think it's safe to go off the trail and up a semi-cleared path up the mountain covered with dry leaves and little rocks will be the time you slip and nearly fall down the same path on your way back down.
  • Fortunately, catching trees prevents you from falling into, say, a ravine.
  • Unfortunately, catching said tree with your leg kind of hurts.
  • Watching science shows on Discovery or The Science Channel does nothing to prepare you except make you do stupid things when you are actually confronted by an animal or real-life nature.
  • Taking a break tomorrow from hiking is totally not a wussy thing to do if you did all of the above just today.