up to nature
Ordinarily, I go to the woods alone, with not a single friend, for they are all smilers and talkers and therefore unsuitable. [ . . . ] If you have ever gone to the woods with me, I must love you very much.
–Mary Oliver, ‘How I go to the woods’
We creep slowly along the paths through the woods, usually to some arbitrary – but hopefully picturesque – destination. Sometimes it is simply a private milestone with nothing to show that it was the point where last time we were too exhausted to continue, though now we are fresh and spritely and well able to go on.
We get up early to go on these walks, to avoid people. We always do see people – these are well established paths, of course – but rising early reduces them to individuals rather than crowds: the cheerful young woman with the cheerful old dog; the father and son who do not get along; the middle-aged man no longer able to hike as far or as quickly as he used to; the young woman with an immense walking staff who scowls at the world and everything in it; the old woman who woke earlier than we did and seems as much a part of the woods as the squirrels.
We ventured on a new path the other day – a shorter, easier, more popular path – and encountered a different set of people. Family groups, mostly, small knots of friends: all with fresher, less weary faces. They are not objectionable. The wilderness expert, the experienced hiker with a careful knapsack of emergency supplies, who shepherds his inexperienced, hapless charges with rigor and eyes each person he passes as though expecting to identify them in a police lineup later – such persons are objectionable, for they spread fear and discontent in the name of enjoyment. They seem to appear in every third group or so, poor devils.1
- It is with some relief I acknowledge to myself that I do not care for hiking. What is called hiking requires such a quantity of sunscreen, stale-smelling apparel, bad temper, and aggressive heartiness that really it comes as no surprise I do not like it: I can think of few people who would.