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I generally have a better day if I can get into the woods by myself for an hour or so. I developed the habit as a child. We had a neighbor who owned a hundred acres which I explored, by myself, almost every day after school.

There was a pond, and a high glacial moraine with a cave you could hide in, and miles of trails no one seemed to walk on but me. It didn’t occur to me to be afraid, and luckily, nothing scary ever happened.

To this day I prefer walking by myself, and I prefer trails to paved paths.

Walking alone helps me with my writing. I’m not consciously aware of it, or deliberately planning, but somehow ideas come to me and patterns emerge.

Perhaps this is because, when you spend a lot of time in a particular landscape, it becomes familiar, and you notice each change brought by the gradual arrival of the seasons. In the same way, revisiting on a daily basis whatever writing you are working on allows you to see it in new ways, especially if you don’t force the process.

Right now, in the woods, the snow is gone but the trees are still leafless. Plants that have stayed green throughout the winter are vivid against the light brown fallen leaves and pine needles on the forest floor.

The shelf lichens are fabulous:

Today I was charmed by what my father called “ground pine.” Only inches tall, it’s also known as “princess pine” or “clubmoss.” Its Latin name is lycopodiophyte and it was here many millions of years before the dinosaurs.

It doesn’t need words to describe it. It needs visuals. Here are two species from today. A third one has an entirely different growth pattern but I didn’t find any on my walk. Luckily I found a picture I took last fall.


I haven’t calculated how many thousands of hours I’ve spent in the woods by myself, nor do I want to know how many I spent on my Dixwell book. But I don’t regret any of the close attention to detail, or the noticing of surprising patterns, both of which continue to lead me to felt knowledge I’ve found no other way to acquire.


Posted on: April 14, 2022


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