Sunday, 5 October 2014

Fall And The Forest

Living in a country with four very distinct seasons can be incredibly challenging. Extreme temperature fluctuations, wild weather patterns, a limited farming season. But the seasons can also stir the soul in very unexpected ways. As winters can be harsh in Canada, spring arrives with a vengeance, like some raging Wal-Mart customer wondering why they have had to wait so long in line. Flowers shove their way up through the snow like bulldozers. Birds return squawking and shrieking en masse after hundreds of miles of migration. Animals stagger out of hibernation and then, in a blur, suddenly rush to feed, mate and rear their young. Lime green leaves burst from hardened buds. Rivers and creeks explode with gushing water. All of nature is in a hurry with a summer season so short, winter always looming in the distance like the Eye of Sauron.  Is it any wonder that fall seems like a slow sigh of relinquished energy? As if nature puts her feet up after a hard day of work and says "Ok, I'm taking a break now..."

 I have hiked so many forest trails in Ontario I have lost count, but I particularly love a fall hike. You can feel the relaxed way of the woods this time of year. The profusion of colour seems somehow contradictory as things are laid dormant. The smell of fallen leaves is, well...intoxicating. There is still so much life, even now. Lichens and mosses looking like they haven't a clue what time of year it is and wouldn't care anyway. Insects lie still, cold, but visible. Like us, they are not quite ready for winter just yet, taking advantage of every sunny hour they can. Mushrooms still spring up after a rain. Mammals scurry about, preparing food caches. Milkweed pods open and seeds float away on the breeze.

Hiking in the forest, any time of year is a not just a passion of mine, it's a necessity. I feed off of it. As nourishing as a hike in the woods is to me, I am also familiar with the fact that the feeling of elation can change in an instant. A storm rolls in, you get lost, you are hungry, out of water, cold...  Suddenly, what seemed so beautiful, seems cruel and unrelenting. I instantly forgive it. I am a mere human, not evolutionarily adapted to this environment. I can't slow my metabolism down to near zero like an insect. I am not a wood frog with glycol-laden blood that can freeze and survive the coldest winters. I don't have the thick fur coat of a black bear that can shed water like a rubber tarp. I am at the mercy of this vast forest, privileged to be in her midst but aware of how powerful she can be. This vulnerability allows me to appreciate every fern, every bug, and every rotten log in the forest with renewed appreciation, at any time of year, but especially now, when she is resting quietly....

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