On Walking and Longing for the Woods: A Reflection

On Walking and Longing for the Woods: A Reflection February 18, 2019

Ordinary Time
18 February 2019
The Edge of Elfland
Concord, New Hampshire

Photo by David Russell Mosley

Dearest Readers,

I miss walking. When my wife and lived in England we had to walk everywhere. We didn’t own a car. We didn’t even take advantage of being able to drive for the first six months without a UK license. We were just too scared to drive on the “wrong side of the road.” Really, my wife was concerned about me driving (and so was I). So we walked.

Every morning I would wake up, have coffee and breakfast and then would walk the 1.3 miles to the university to work on my dissertation. Just after lunch, I would usually grab my pipe (if the weather was nice), a journal, and a book, and go for a walk around the lake at the university. Twice a week, usually, I would walk the .8 miles down to our local pub, The Crown Inn. I walked everywhere. I lost a ton of weight from all this walking, but I really didn’t care about that––though it made eating copious amounts of pork and drinking a decent amount of beer and cider possible. Rather, I just loved to walk. And I still do, but I don’t get the opportunities anymore.

The US is a country made for cars, not for people, not anymore. Some cities, usually the big ones, are still walkable and when you can’t walk they have a decent public transportation system. But most cities and towns don’t have this. I live in Concord, which is, depending on where you live, a fairly walkable town. But I don’t work here. I can’t walk to work the way I used to, because work is 19 miles away (as is my kids’ school). And even at work, I can’t really go for walks. I generally have too much to do during the day. I suppose I could, and should, occasionally take my classes for walks, but it can never equal the 5-7 miles I used to walk 5 days a week.

Of course, one of the upsides to where I live now is that walking in wooded areas is a little easier, especially since I can’t typically walk to them. I love walking in woods more than anything. While I love the vistas of mountain hiking, I far prefer ambling about in the woods. I am a nemophilist, a haunted of woods, or at least I like to be. No line in all of English literature speaks to my soul more than: 

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” 

There are many hiking trails here in Concord alone. Last Summer I became acquainted with one of them. This Spring, perhaps even this late Winter, I hope to get to know them. I want to so haunt the woods that I become familiar with the geniuses therein. I don’t want a modern scientists knowledge, but a philosopher’s, a poet’s, a theologian’s. 

I’m trying to teach my children this kind of love of the woods. On the trail we’ve come to know best, there are large stones of granite everywhere. I tell them they are sleeping trolls, but not to worry, for I know the song that will send them to sleep. I love to share this with my children, but the ideal for me is still to walk alone. I love people, my family most of all, but when I travel amongst the trees, I don’t normally want another human soul around. I want to get to know the soul and the souls of the woods in which I walk. To be reminded, as Tolkien says, that, “God is the Lord, of angels, and of men—and of elves.” I desperately want my children to know and to feel this. I also, occasionally, want to go feel it by myself.

I miss a life of walking, where my two feet are the primary means by which I get from point A to point B. But I hope that this year I can more deliberately return to the woods and walk. To find Christ amongst the toadstools, to look for the dappled Light, to find the Creator in his creation.

David Russell Mosley

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