Why I Went to the Woods

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” – Henry David Thoreau, Walden

The first time I studied American transcendentalism, I found Thoreau, Emerson, and their ilk more than a little pompous-seeming. (Of course, everyone seems more pompous when you’re forced to read them in high school.) However, since the Husband, Prince Lionel, and I moved to our house in a nature reserve four months ago, I have to say: they had something to say worth hearing. Something has happened to us since we moved out here, and I now hope we never have to leave.

Since we moved in, the woods have gone from the stark twigginess of winter into a state almost jungle-like in their lushness. I can’t say whether we’ve “live(d) deep and suck(ed) out all the marrow of life” yet, as Thoreau did, but I do try to cram as much fun into the weekends as I can before the Texas heat makes life unbearable. (It’s worth noting that Walden Pond is located in Massachusetts, where the summers are significantly less punishing. I’d like to see Thoreau stay serene two weeks into 100-degree days.)

The woods in spring and early summer are nothing short of magnificent. I walk Lionel down the main road with a full leafy canopy of oaks, ash, and elm shading our path. The scent of lilac and mimosa blooms is heavenly; I only wish I could bottle it.

Something happens to me when I’m in the woods with Lionel. I’m not fond of exercise, and my gym phases have always been a begrudging nod to health and the need for cardiovascular endurance. But lately, I find myself losing track of time amid the trees. Instead of watching a clock on a machine wind down, I’m watching the sunlight filter through the leaves like so much stained glass. I find myself surprised when I return home and see that an hour has passed. I’m just as sweaty and gross as during my gym outings, but somehow I feel more renewed than drained. Normally, I would put music on my headphones to distract myself from the unpleasantness of exertion, but I have a built-in soundtrack in the forest. The cicadas in the morning are a near-constant hum (I call them “nature’s white noise machine”), and the bird song varies between the delicate chirps of the sparrows and the rather gauche quacking of the cranes and water fowl.

I don’t see many animals in the woods proper, as they tend to flee when they hear Lionel and me passing by. However, toward evening the deer and raccoons seem very fond of our house, thanks to the Husband’s habit of throwing out corn. In two of our rooms, we have picture windows large enough to observe the does guzzle feed a few feet away while their fawns frolic in the tall grass.

Of course, I’m far from the first person to notice the ameliorating effect of trees and sunshine and birdsong. Scientists have linked nature walks to lowered stress, improved cognitive functioning, and better moods. The Japanese have a practice called “shinrin-yoku,” or forest bathing, which entails freely wandering through the woods without a goal or electronic devices on the brain. (I’m not sure I can ever trust Lionel enough to wander aimlessly, given his self-image as The Great Slayer of Raccoons).

Not everyone can live in the middle of a forest, but DFW metroplex has many lovely parks, especially in the (better) Fort Worth end. As more research is done on the preventative medicine benefits of nature walking, I hope that more of my fellow Texans will take advantage of them. (As long as they don’t Mess with Texas, that is.)


Photos from the neighborwood:






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