I went on a long walk through the woods this week after a good rain. The woods were cool, aromatic and quite fresh. I offered the trees a little carbon dioxide as I exhaled and they accepted it, giving me abundant oxygen in return as they swayed under clearing skies. As the fellow says in Dances With Wolves, “Good trade!” I would trade breathing out waste air for breathing in the wonders of fresh air any day.
And I traded other things on the walk as well. I swapped some stress and tightness for relaxation and refreshing. I offered exertion and received a moving panorama of fecundity as I reflected upon the great generosity of nature. Farmers and foresters are very well acquainted with the tendency of nature to be extravagantly generous. The forest floor was strewn with hickory nuts, more than scores of squirrels could gather. And even though it is only early October, the color show has begun. Some leaves are bright red, others bright yellow and there is a lemony cast to several low bushes. Sassafras and sweet gum trees are always unpredictable, but I saw a few purples and oranges among them along the edge of the pines.
I paused and reflected on the annual change of color for quite a while. A scientist friend of mine explained to me once that those beautiful fall colors are the “true” colors of the leaves and these amazing colors show up when chlorophyll breaks down in the coolness and allows this hidden vibrancy to burst forth. Perhaps in some ways we human beings are like the leaves. In hardship, our true colors come through, don’t they? Each of us responds a little differently to the problems and challenges of life but all of us show glimpses of our character in our responses. Often the difficulties we go through result in strength and resolution so that we grow. It is a bit like exercise advocates say: “If it does not kill you it will make you stronger.”
Problems notwithstanding, there is something about a walk in the woods that clears the mind and allows thoughts and ideas that may have been below the conscious level to break forth. Many of us have experienced going into the woods confused and coming out with clarity. Perhaps that is what makes hunting so popular—it is an activity that helps us work things out more or less passively, or at least in ways that seem passive.
On my long woods walk this week, the best thing that happened was a new awareness of all I have to be thankful for, such as simple things like good health, food, family and friends. I cannot lie to myself in the woods. There is something about nature that makes us face ourselves for who we actually are, without pretense, without posturing, without smoothing anything over. This radical honesty of the woods carries over into life and shows us the great value of gratitude. Gratitude is riches of the greatest kind. Gratitude makes our true colors golden.