Editor’s Notebook: The way of the woods
There are many, many miles of hiking trails in New Hampshire. Marjory Swope Park in Concord offers a small network of trails and one particularly stunning view of Penacook Lake. (Dana Wormald | New Hampshire Bulletin)
I woke up early on Wednesday morning – and not in a carpe diem kind of way. Two hours before the alarm was set to go off, I started dreaming up things to worry about – work and the world, my family’s well-being and our future paths. I worried about worrying. By sunrise, before my day had started, I was fully uptight and thoroughly exhausted.
And then, halfway into a commute made unnecessarily stressful by a spinning mind, I pulled over at a trailhead.
It was perfect. Tuesday’s storm had renewed the winter landscape to the apparent satisfaction of the birds, and just a single set of car tires furrowed the slope up to the parking area. Although I wouldn’t be among the morning’s hikers, I desperately wanted to trick my body and mind into thinking that was the plan. So on foot I turned left at the kiosk, took a few steps and several deep breaths, and imagined myself walking into forestland that had become as familiar to me as the woods of my youth. Within a minute, my muscles relaxed and I began shedding fragments of the mental burden I had been compiling since the wee hours.
Untroubled, I finished the commute.
The same day as that fresh snowfall, the Bulletin published a story by the newest member of our team, Hadley Barndollar, about a cause for celebration in Rochester. The William H. Champlin Jr. Forest – “a natural expanse of both woodlands and fields” – would be growing by 122 acres through a community effort spearheaded by the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests. The expansion means more trails to walk, more sights to see, more opportunities for the people of Rochester and beyond to find their way back into their world.
I know the addition to the Champlin Forest is not the biggest story in the world, or New Hampshire, or even Strafford County. But it could be huge news for any person, on any given day, who needs a reminder that we are part of nature, not separate from it.
The naturalist John Muir said, “Between every two pine trees there is a door leading to a new way of life.” I’ve been through that door – it’s real, it’s wonderful, and it’s always open.
New Hampshire is lined with wooded paths open to the public; Concord alone boasts 80 miles of hiking trails. In fact, the trailhead I stopped at on Wednesday morning is in the capital city: Marjory Swope Park. I can’t tell you how much that little network of paths and vistas has meant to me over the past year. The “blue” loop is a short, easily accessible hike with a giant payoff in the form of a spectacular view of Penacook Lake. Another favorite trail leads from Swope Park to Winant Park, named for the former governor and diplomat, where a second series of loops opens up near the St. Paul’s School campus.
Every morning, regardless of the weather, I find myself pulled toward those paths. Whenever I am able, I fill a water bottle, don the proper layers, and heed the call. My life is better – I am better – because of that habitual walk in the woods.
As a kid, I didn’t have to make plans to get outside like I do now. Heading into the wild was just what you did where I grew up because that’s where adventure was found. I climbed trees and boulders, explored pine groves and wetlands, built rafts and lean-tos. I’m tempted to say I ceased those adventures when life became more demanding and complicated, but I suspect the opposite is true. The complications began because I stopped adventuring.
I don’t expect to do much swashbuckling in the woods of Concord, but every time out there I see or hear something that pulls me out of myself. The world slows down and opens up, and I along with it.
The path is clear, wide, and growing in Rochester, Concord, everywhere – and it’s there for everybody. Actually, it’s kind of a big story.
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