A couple weeks ago, I had planned to hike on a Thursday morning with a friend I hadn’t seen in months. We were looking forward to being together and venturing into one of my favorite forests at nearby Huddart Park. The forecast was for rain – not just a little drizzle. Did we want to venture beyond our comfort zone, even if it was pouring?
I was game, and so was she – what an adventure! Going outdoors brings me great joy, but there’s always an element of being uncomfortable. Will I get muddy? Will my new rain pants truly hold up? What if I slip and fall? How about the cold? Being in nature mirrors to us the fact that life is unpredictable and uncomfortable sometimes.
We met up and drove together through the windy road to the park entrance, then on to the grassy field near the trailhead. On with the jackets, hiking books, and mittens (yep, it was chilly!), and off we went into the redwood forest.
It’s hard to describe the sensations of joy I feel in the forest. It’s a physical sensation of heightened senses, elation, and ease all at once. The rain only served to intensify it, especially the feeling of ease. The soft patter of drops falling from branches and contacting redwood sorrel and other greenery below the canopy contrasted with the deep silence behind it. Peace spread through the woods, enveloping me in a gentle embrace that quieted my mind.
Oh, the smells! The rich, wet earth, blended with moist wood and decomposing bay laurel leaves intoxicates me. I instinctively inhale deeply, as if trying to taste the rich scent by drawing in more of the wonderful scents of the forest. It feels so fresh and clean, and deeply alive. I, too, feel deeply alive as we journey further down the trail.
Our hope was to spy a bunch of banana slugs – one of my favorite creatures to spy here in our local ecosystem – but much to our surprise, they were nowhere to be found, even in this very wet weather. But guess what was out in droves in their place: newts! We counted 5 California newts at various times on our adventure. They waddled across the leafy compost the way a toddler ambles across the living room floor, but on 4 legs instead of two. It was fun to catch a well-concealed newt in the act amongst the camouflage, like picking out Waldo from an eye-boggling scene.
And the earthworms! 10, 20, more… I lost count over our 2 hour jaunt. We took care to avoid stepping on them, sometimes 4-5 littered across the trail like long strings of confetti. I imagined they came out for a party from their underground cover, enjoying the newfound freedom in the rain’s shower.
At the bottom of the hill I was greeted by the creek, which was delightfully full, rushing over river stones large and small, tan oak branches, past fallen Douglas firs, and downward to join many spontaneous rivulets racing to merge in union. After crossing the stream, we chose a trail I had not ventured onto before to follow up the other slope.
It was rare that I saw birds in this forest – usually I only heard whispers of them high above us, atop the redwoods. But today we were treated with a dark-eyed junco couple directly ahead of us on the path. We stopped to watch in silence; and to await how close they would approach us. One hopped towards us, then paused to peck at the group; the second would then take a few cautious hops in our direction. Chit-chit, chit-chit they called to each other, contrasting with the soft sound of the rain. They came within 9 feet or so, then worked their way back in the other direction, eventually off into the brush.
Two hours passes in timelessness. We had put our cells on airplane mode, happily walking without distraction, without checking watches or thinking about “the world”. This was the world. This was alive, abundant, vibrant. Full of surprises and delights. Pausing for occasional downpours so that we could watch, hear, feel, and smell the gift of the rain. We didn’t need more than what nature offered us with every step, around every corner.
Kindly, my friend had packed some lunch for us, and we found a decent picnic table to sit down and eat, enjoying conversation and the drops that landed on our hoods and in our salads. Fresh food never tasted so good out on the land. I appreciated every fruit and vegetable, marveling at what nature provides.
My clothes? The rain pants were fantastic; my legs were cool but not wet. Water dripped off my rainjacket harmlessly onto the ground. My hiking boots held up fine. Just my fingerless mittens were soaked, easily rectified in the dryer back at home.
As we drove away and back into “civilization”, I was filled with gratitude. Nature fills me in ways that nothing else can. I feel Spirit alive in every rock, tree, and raindrop. I recognize that my needs are truly simple. What more do we truly need than this precious beauty, this flowing water, this bushy-tailed squirrel that eyes me as she eats seeds from a cone? The more present we are in nature, the more the mind becomes serene and we experience the Oneness with life that truly fulfills us.
Returning home, the aliveness of the forest was alive in me. I stood in the driveway and turned my face up to the clouds, feeling the drops on my cheeks and forehead. I am a leaf catching the rain, and nothing feels more grand. I was OK being a little wet, a little cold, and stepping into the unknown. Going past my comfort zone opened me to new joys that I hadn’t experienced before.