Long Walks in the Woods: A Story about Nature and Creativity
How a famous American book helped me discover my intrepid connection to Nature
I have this theory or what some would call a 'life-hack'. When I fall in love with the work of an artist/creator, I don't just study their work....I search out their heroes, the creators that inspired them, and devour that work too. Somehow, that philosophy led me straight to Henry David Thoreau. Because of this, I have gone down both metaphorical and very real roads towards a new understanding of my relationship with nature, solitude and life.
I'm a city kid. The type of person that grew up with every essential in walking distance, concrete under my feet, felt the city lights in my blood type-of-person. My city isn't a complete concrete jungle and my neighborhood was still suburbia. Downtown was only a 45 minute bike ride away and the freeway was next door. I had parks, trees, a large backyard etc but nature, the kind of deafening quiet that real woods and lakes bring, was missing from everyday life.
Thankfully, I was lucky enough to have family members who owned a lake house, only a mere two and a half hour drive west. The tiny house itself isn’t fancy but that was never the point. It was the view and the opportunities that had us all in love. Multiple times during the year, my family would pack our bags and the dog (and I would pack a back-breaking amount of books plus my bow/arrow set) and we would drive to Possum Kingdom Lake. In the Spring, we would invent creative ways to entertain ourselves depending on whether we could get in the lake or not. Often it would include canoeing or building things with my grandfather. The colder months meant long family hikes with me shouting LOTR quotes into the thick western brush as I burst through the branches like I was on a quest. Cold months also meant camping out in tents and cooking over an open fire on the deserted beach. There were always deer to feed and spiders to escape.
Then there were the summer months that always held the best of times. Water sports that left us sore and sunburned in the best kind of way. We would jump off the dock onto floats while country music played. For breaks we would just lay on the floats as we let the warm sun dry us before another jump into the cold muddy water. We would also take the boat out for a spin. In the old days, it was Sea-Doos too and taking family outings on the boat to different sites around the lake. It meant fishing at night, us kids being told off for being too loud.
It was on that lake that I found the beauty of nature. The escape from the harsh roughness of the city and into a place where one can hear themselves think. There was time to sit back in a hammock and watch the lake sparkle in the sun. Time to get up early in the mornings and watch a lavender sunrise come over the eastern hills with only the calls of the ducks to break through the silence. Or those after-dinner moments where the sun began to set, casting it’s orange glow on the water and the docks that gently floated. On my returns to the city, everything felt thunderous, louder and crazier than any storm to ever hit the lake.
I remember all the storms that came through- the ones that scared me to death but also inspired a unwanted but deep excitement. They would form far off in the sky, creating a paradoxical battle between dark and light. The lightning would flash from behind the hills and thunder would shake the inside of the house. The water would come, flooding the grass and rising the tide. Then there would be the peaceful aftermath when the clouds would pass. You would walk outside and the drips from the roof would drop to the ground with a gentle plop. Life would un-pause and we would return to our adventures.
Having this open playground, filled with endless possibilities allowed my imagination to grow in ways that often felt so suffocated being surrounded by urban walls. It allowed me to live out adventures in my own imaginative way like my favorite characters did in their stories. As a child, I would pretend to be a hero from the mind of an Inkling or I would create my own tales. I was sure that the forest, that lined the property. had monsters that I would be forced to fight if we ever met. My mind and my soul were encouraged to explore without concrete boundaries.
I was given a chance to be wild, to get my hands and feet muddy, to learn skills and grow as a human being. And most of all, before I even knew it, I was experiencing and learning to appreciate one of the greatest gifts, nature.
I, like most humans, tend to forget really important things in my life. As I’ve gotten older, I rush and worry through most of my time. I’m always looking ahead and trying to figure out game plans. I get caught up in life and I don’t stop and study the simple things. I started to realize my lack of appreciating quiet and peace when I took a day trip to the countryside during my study abroad semester. A walk around the outskirts of Oxford reminded me of the magic of nature and the creativity that it can inspire is us. However, I quickly forgot as I finished up my last weeks in London and headed off into a year that filled with extreme loneliness, anxiety and depression.
A good few months post college graduation, I decided to pick up Thoreau, inspired by another hero. The reader I once was had been lost in the fast four years to the rush of college responsibilities. But I missed the feeling of an old story and what importance it held in its pages. I also had a story to write myself and every writer knows that reading is the best lesson for writing.
Thoreau once wrote, “How vain is it to sit to write when you have not stood to live”. That hit as I struggle to write my story that featured a road trip.
So compelled by HDT, I decided to set off on a one day road trip. My AR/LA/East TX trip consisted of a sunrise that awed me so much I had to stop my car and take in the sight. My highway took me to Arkansas by the way of that unique Texan beauty the East holds. Once out of Louisiana and back in Texas, I found myself on the backroads, the kind that is a bumpy road past towering trees and only the occasional home.
I was speeding down empty dirt roads with only my music to keep me company. I had multiple stops but my final one was Caddo Lake State Park. I sat and wrote by the lake, watching the few travelers move in and out with their cars and boats. I took over an hour walking through the walking paths in the woods. I was by myself but I was not alone. I had left my loneliness in the city that was home to millions. I didn’t need anything at that moment because I had the trees, the soft brook and the sounds of nature. Birds swept above and my eye looked out for snakes below. I could finally think and I felt more peace and ease. I felt whole again as the wind whispered its secrets. As the sunset against the empty Caddo lake view, I was finally reminded of something I had forgotten amidst the confusing and painful anxiety of modern life: nature is healing. It is not this pause button on life but instead just a different, a better, view of our lives that are always moving. It provides insight often when we most need it. And solitude is not something to feared. Being alone does not equate to loneliness.
Because of that one day road trip, I felt inspired to do another, a longer one. So when a New Mexico-based friend and I planned for me to visit, I knew that I only had one way to get there; the road.
The size of Texas means a vast array of geography. There is so much unique beauty in every part of the state and its constantly changes as you move along the roads and highways. My early morning drive brought another sunrise and snowing sights. Near Amarillo, it brought that cow stink and flat fields. Even with those ever-stretching fields that lie flat on the panhandle, I was amazed by them. I was stopping my car again and again, pausing my ever-constant classic rock playlist, to take in this escape. I was once again in awe of the nature that I saw, even from my car windows. Then, right before I hit the NM state line those flat plains stopped and the mesas appeared. I had to catch my breath at the sight of the mountainous tables and colorful valleys. My first thought was a quote from Don Henley from his Walden Woods essay, “The Divinity, The Over-Soul (or whatever term you wish to use) is manifest nowhere as surely and as magnificently as in untrammeled nature..”.
There was this deep spiritual sense I had, seeing that stunning view. That kind of feeling where a human feels small but still significant at the same time. Significant because we have the honor of being the viewer of this grandeur.
That wasn’t the last time I felt that feeling. Throughout that road trip, either from the ground or from my driver’s seat, I was introduced to the type of allure that no city can afford the eyes. Snow capped peaks with a full moon perfectly positioned over them, sunsets that cast a classic southwestern color pallet on the ground below, quiet valleys that raced until the last thing the eye could see was a mountain range that called so loud that nothing else could deafen it. I had forgotten what it was like to be so in awe of the natural exquisiteness around me that it made me emotional but also, inspired.
On a return trip to my family lake house, I sat on the dock, watching the world around me. ‘The Last Resort’, an aching call for the environment and a lyrical masterpiece, played before I turned my phone off. Sometimes even the best songs need to bow before silence. I watched the sunset and the darkness begin to swallow the smooth water. The moon and thousands of stars in that southern sky still provided the light.. I thought about my memories and how that lake had helped shape the best parts of me.
My imagination was strengthened by the mysterious nights. My courage and racing heart were encouraged by the wildness that surrounded me there. I had a place that helped me breathe once again and clear my ever-racing and worrying mind. Even the trips there on those western roads were medicine to my wounded soul. This was my Walden, my home to rest, to grow, to learn and to create. Nature inspired my desire to explore, to be intrepid. I connect with art that has a deep connection to nature. Even deeper still is the grand mystery that it holds. The secrets of the ocean and the rumors of the mountains. We get to experience but it is these magnificent visuals gifts that are often the teacher. There is the greatest sense of meaning when you feel small yet still a part of something bigger. It reminds us of the greater purpose in our lives.
“A thrumming of piano-strings beyond the gardens and through the elms. At length the melody steals into my being. I know not when it began to occupy me. By some fortunate coincidence of thought or circumstance I am attuned to the universe, I am fitted to hear, my being moves in a sphere of melody, my fancy and imagination are excited to an inconceivable degree. This is no longer the dull earth on which I stood” -Thoreau-