Forest trails provide the most wondrously adventurous experiences. The scents, the sounds, the beauty. The feel of the rough bark. The unexpected stones and roots that jut out of the winding pathways. The spell-binding magnificence of nature’s mysterious ways.
At times, we even have the opportunity to taste nature. Delicious wild fruits and berries that line the trails as we hike deeper into the twisting natural mazes. (I love the wild blackberries that line the Ambassador Whitehouse Trail at Sky Meadows State Park in Northern Virginia in early July. Hikers are invited to graze as we move along. Some families with young children bring containers to fill and take home.)
Completely surrounded by nature in the heart of the forest, positively impacts our physical and mental wellbeing, infusing us with a rush of beneficial chemicals that are found in the plants themselves (phytoncides) as well as the release of our body’s neurotransmitters (serotonin and endorphins). This is a natural response, whether or not we’re aware of it, that rejuvenates our spirit, reduces stress, and clears our mind, often filling us with wonder and awe. The Japanese refer to this rejuvenation as “forest bathing.”
While making our way along a forest trail, it isn’t long before we may spot something magical and unexplainable. When this happens, I end up spending the rest of the hike trying to solve the mystery: ie, curvy tree trunks, strange-sized holes in the dirt, four different trees growing out of one massive base. How? What? How again?
“The most beautiful thing that we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science.”Albert Einstein
The Appalachian trail runs through Sky Meadows State Park in Northern Virginia, which adds another layer of wonderment to my forest experience. Apparently, 350 million years ago, back when there were two giant land masses, the Northern Hemisphere and Southern (Laurasia and Gondwana), the Appalachians used to be connected to the Scottish Highlands, and the Anti-Atlas Mountains of Western Europe. This is very cool to ponder while navigating the many boulders and rocks along the trail.
I don’t like to be afraid while I’m hiking. Bears often lurk behind the trees deep in the woods. I bought bear bells so I can make some noise while I courageously venture forward. A few times, horses have tried to gallop past unexpectedly, causing me to leap into the tangled forest understory where I’ve spotted that many more interesting discoveries.
“Picture This” app is an exciting way to quench my curiosity as I quickly try and guess which tree species this or that tree or shrub might be as I admire the various shaped leaves.
I’m intrigued by the artistic masterpieces that nature can create on its own. How is this possible, I wonder.
And then, one day out of the blue, in the thick of Virginia winter, there was an astonishing human created masterpiece tucked between a few tall trees in a Fairfax County forest. Did everyone who passed along the same trail see this, too? During all my many years, and tens of thousands of hours of hiking forests and trails from the East Coast to the West Coast, and many states in between, I’d never seen anything like it.
It was absolutely astonishing, causing instant dismay and awe. It’s very rare that human artistic efforts can eclipse that of nature’s.
Behold! An anonymous, highly-skilled artisan (or team of artisans) who crafted this masterful work in the bitter cold in less than two weeks. ✧
by Noreen Wise
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