Late afternoon as I sit in my favourite library chair to write, and there is some wistfulness in watching the gathering darkness, for the day has been sunny. While it is mild in January, on Vancouver Island, it can also be grey, and even the weak sun dispersed through clouds enough to bring heightened pleasure, and a sense of lightening, if not quite the friskiness of spring. The forest that I hiked this particular day was thronged with people, in contrast to its usual vast emptiness, and I confess that the experience that I go to seek was somewhat lacking. I find myself pondering the meaning of that experience, for me.
I encountered only one other solitary hiker, a man I see often enough to recognize and we share only nods and smiles, nothing more. Every other group is noisy and talkative and somewhat overwhelming with their questions and chit chat and neon-bright human presence that seems to shout a spastic greeting at me. I’ve been known to hike with selected friends: friends selected for their quiet conversation, and enjoyment of the forest sights and smells and sounds. I also prefer hiking companions who don’t wear neon colours, but this may be a prejudice I should strive to overcome. Perhaps neon would be disquieting to a bear or other wildlife, and surely it would help in not getting lost. And rather mean of me to poke fun at neon-wearing, smelly-with-fragrance, shouting humans. But clearly the experience they seek is socially constructed, whereas I – hmmmmm, I seek other.
I am conscious of my body in the sense of its pleasure in movement, and, at times, super-conscious if I must cross steep terrain or ford a stream. But mostly, my body, like my thoughts, settles to a background song to the delight and joys of the forest – the fifty shades of green of the temperate rain forest, the creak of the forest canopy, the rustlings that tell of foraging birds or squirrels or what have you. The moist and fragrant air – the fragrance of loam, and branch, and decaying vegetation that builds the forest anew. The sights that unfold slowly, at a walking pace, slowly enough to take it all in and to find new details even on a well-familiar trail.
Often, when I return to my truck at the end of the trail, I must sit for a few moments to awaken to my return to the busy world. My consciousness needs to shift into doing, instead of being – which seems paradoxical, as hiking is doing of some sort. Nevertheless, too abrupt a transition is disquieting to me. It may be that my ramblings have given you the impression, my imaginary friend, that I am just an introvert seeking solitude. But truthfully, I sit squarely in the middle of the introversion/extroversion scale, being a seeker of solitude while enjoying the social immensely; indeed, with a need for both in my life. I find I can come up with only one word to describe what I seek – which is intimacy. I become intimate with my body, my thoughts, and my place in the wider surroundings in a way that seldom happens elsewhere, and which also seems to be a kind of alchemy. To become, for a time, truly wild and free.
I am left with this last reflection: that this thrilling wildness and freedom I seek comes through a deep intimacy… which strikes me as a lovely metaphor for both life and love.