(A letter to myself, from myself, as written by my subconscious)
“Have you ever been to Camp Long? It’s a spectacular park out in West Seattle. It’s got five miles of trails within the park, foot bridges, an obstacle course, fire pits, and rustic cabins,” I say to my companion, convincing him this should be our adventure for the day.
“Well, that certainly sounds like a great place to spend the day,” he tells me.
Thus, I packed essentials: water bottle, a couple of pens, my notebook, a few letters (for inspiration), and though I don’t plan on using them, I bring my earbuds. I want to wander, reset my frazzled mind. Work has been unbearably stressful and I’m finding it difficult to balance my life with each passing day. Today will be a day that I wander some trails and let go, and you, my companion, will put up the hammock in the trees next to the small creek. The weather is chilly enough to wear a hooded sweatshirt and warm enough to hike in shorts.
When we arrived at the entrance to Camp Long, we were greeted by an old brick house made into a ranger station. We walk down the ADA ramp, lined with tall pines, and find our way to a narrow trail head that leads to the perfect hammock spot. The sun dwells just behind a veil of grey clouds, grasping at every opportunity to shine through. The wind is chilly as it whispers through the leaves, weaving a heavenly scent of pine, cedar, Douglas fir, and musky earth. I left you curled comfortably in the hammock as I took to continuing the path. While I have no purposeful destination, I seek to embed myself as deeply into this park, this trail, as these woods will allow. Intersections of trails are frequent; each time I allow the trail to choose me. I don’t think much for the first twenty minutes of this walk. I breathe as deeply as I can, soaking in the crisp air of leaves, dirt, and an unnamed sweetness. It is so peaceful here.
Finally, my mind begins to unwind. I pull one of the bottles from my backpack, and take a gulp of water. Still cold. I must have walked that brain of mine into meditation harder than I thought. I stopped walking and found a couple of roots running parallel, giving the illusion of a small set of steps, just off the beaten path. I sit, feeling fully submerged in the greenery surrounding me. I imagine that if I sat very still for as long as I possibly could, I would blend in with the forest, become one with it. Disappear among the wild.
It sounds like Home. For real though; the song is Nights (I Wish I Could Be There). I know I am aiming for an unaltered experience, and at this moment I need something a little different. With earbuds in, I pause in my wanderings to eat a granola bar and put music to my ears as I am with my eyes. I sit for three songs, inhaling deeply and closing my eyes.
I feel a pang of homesickness: back in a different park, in a faraway location, where it was sweltering and miserable, we were swatting at mosquitos and apologizing for whosever plan this was. I read my letter, one line sticking out, “I’m sorry if there are any typos, there are several ants destroying my leg.”
I remove the earbuds before the ants in this reality begin to devour me, and stand. I listen. A few birds chirp in the distance. I’m not sure what kind they are; the birds listed at the trail head said there’d be warblers. Maybe that’s what a warbler sounds like. I read another line of my letter and safely fold it back, “My whole world is brighter, everything I do has more meaning to me. I’m forever grateful and excited to challenge whatever life throws, together.”
Shuffling along the trail among leaves and overgrown shrubs, blackberry bushes, and ferns, I see a weird looking leaf? Twig? I kneel closely for inspection. It’s about eight inches long, and yellowy-green with a few dark freckles. Sort of like a slimy banana. While banana slugs are nocturnal creatures, today’s mild and moist conditions are perfect to find one, well, slugging around. I’ve heard that banana slugs are the second largest slugs in the world, and though they come in other colors, they are named for their shape and color, characteristic of a mature banana. You know, the one you’ve been avoiding eating. This slug is a little more green than yellow and the dark brown spots give it an appearance of a pickle, rather than banana. I take a stick and gently prod at it to see if it’s alive. It moves slowly, curling up, crinkling leaves and debris with it. The forest pickle and I have a short conversation about our plans for the day, then I wandered off without a goal or destination.
“I don’t know where all this will go; all I know is I want to spend time with you. I want to make memories, share experiences, laugh, and just be, enjoying your company,” words of my letter echo through my mind.
I am reminded of the Wander Society, an anonymous organization of writers, philosophers, and general people who find walking as humble as it is noble. This tradition has been in existence for over a hundred years; though I’ve recently been introduced to it. This art form of meditation and rejuvenation is beneficial for myriad reasons, including stress relief and inspiration. Since moving to Seattle, it’s been my primary source of transportation. Most people are surprised when I tell them my walk to work averages about 40 minutes, and they’re shocked when I tell them I enjoy it. I’ve gotten to know a city by walking it; that’s something I’ve never done and now I feel intimately connected to where I live and work than I would if I drove through it.
Authors such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau were avid wanderers. They wrote poetry and essays about walking in nature. I think about them as I follow the trail through the trees, a low rumble of traffic heard from a distance. The opening between the trees reveals a soft blue sky and a few white clouds. I keep an internal compass on my journey and before I know it, I arrive at cement steps leading up and out of the forest.
I’ve come to the end of the trail. This last trek will lead me across a manicured field, and back to the trail head where I left my companion lazily swinging in a hammock. “I’ve never been the type of person that truly believes in everything happens for a reason, I guess that’s because I was too busy ignoring it. Then I met you.”
“Give your heart to a wanderer, who found your soul and called it home,” (Unknown) for “not all those who wander are lost” (J.R.R. Tolkien), and it is often a meditation in losing oneself that will bring one back to themselves. An unintentional walk will put things into perspective and return what you haven’t given yourself the proper time to think about.
The Wander Society
Rebekah Ramsdell recently moved from Florida to Washington state, leaving one home to find a new one. This journal is part of that story. Photo by the author. (Solvitur Ambulando is a Latin phrase that means ‘It is solved by walking.’