Nature Connection: Walking Alone

By: Mary Richmond

Mary Richmond Photo

When I tell people I prefer to walk in the woods or down the beach alone, they shake their heads and tell me it isn’t safe. I don’t even take the dog on my long walks, and I’ve never had a problem. My dog’s a dawdler and a sniffer and he loves to bark at anything that moves, including leaves, so he and I do our walking at other times, in other places.
I especially like to ramble alone in the early morning or just before dusk. I can stop, watch and listen whenever and wherever I wish. I can sit on a fallen tree and imagine the stories the moss covered stump could tell if I could understand its soft mossy language. The longer I sit, the more nature opens up around me and the more mossy mumbles make sense.
It’s amazing the things one sees and hears when one sits or stands quietly. Butterflies and dragonflies land on you. Birds appear just yards away from you and toads hop by within inches of you. I’ve told this story before, but once I had a young rabbit take a nap on my foot as I sat drawing. That’s how much a part of the natural world we can become if we are silent and still.
We can’t always go out walking by ourselves, though. Spouses, friends and relatives want to come along. That’s fine but they almost all want to chat as they walk. They aren’t watching the kinglets flit about overhead or listening to the baby downy woodpeckers clamor to be fed. They almost step on the lady’s slipper and totally walk by the sweet star flowers. They’re oblivious to the chipmunk, still as a statue on a log as we pass by, and they almost trip over the turtle wandering down the path looking for a good place to lay its eggs. They don’t stop to pick up feathers or tufts of fur, never mind examine scat, and they don’t much care if that shrub is lowbush blueberry or huckleberry.
Recently I have walked with more than a few different people for one reason or another and although our walks were perfectly pleasant, I found myself longing to go back and do the walk over by myself. I wanted to see, not just hear, the ovenbird, look for more wildflowers and see if I could find the tree where the evasive blue jay nested. My friend was anxious to continue, though, so we kept going. Not a bad thing. Just different.
Don’t get me wrong. Walking with others can be wonderful. Sometimes they show me things they have discovered that I might have missed. They tell stories of what certain places mean to them or their family and they share their delight at finding their own favorite birds, flowers, seashells or feathers. It’s just a whole different kind of experience than being out alone.
The late poet, Mary Oliver, apparently felt the same way I do about being out in nature by oneself. She ended her piece, “How I go to the Woods” with, “If you have ever gone to the woods with me, I must love you very much.” I totally get this sentiment, as I’m sure others do.
When we head out on our walks alone, it’s not that we don’t love you. It’s just that we want to be alone for a bit. Nature fills up our empty parts, gives us back some peace and quiet, restores some natural need for sky above us and dirt beneath our feet.
There are times for walking and talking and times for walking alone in silence. If you are not someone who finds joy in heading out into the woods alone, it may be hard to understand those of us who do.
We live in a world of constant sharing and that can feel overwhelming to some of us. Often we just want to refill and replenish ourselves and we have to do that by ourselves. We’ll be happy to join you for a cup of coffee or tea when we return. And if you do go out into the woods with us, know that we really do love you very much.