Life at 4 km an hour.

Lynn Headwaters is my favourite place to hike in the Lower Mainland for two reasons: it is only a 15-minute drive from my house and it offers a variety of hiking challenge-levels depending on my mood.  Along the river is a flat, easy walk. On the upper trails are steep grades to Lynn Peak and undulating forest paths that wind through to an old logging debris chute before turning back. And for distance, Norvan falls at 14 kilometres makes a satisfying destination. I have hiked all of these trails at one time or another over the past decade of spending time there – balking only at the rough back country trails up Coliseum Mountain or through Hanes Valley due to reports that they aren’t well marked and I’m probably not in the greatest shape for such adventures.

My last two Mondays off work however, I have started my day with the 5.5 km Lynn loop hike which provides a good mix of steep grade, undulating paths and a flat 1.5 km return to the trail head. It’s not only an opportunity to get the dog out on a decent run, but I have always enjoyed hiking alone – and while Lynn is busy most of the time, if I go early on a Monday the upper trails are all but empty (until around ten, when the power joggers come out). This is some of the first solo hiking that I’ve done in at least a year – and I had forgotten just how much I get out of such short jaunts. Just an hour and fifteen minutes of trail time is really all it takes.

One of my observations over years of hiking is how much differently the mind seems to operate when in the act of walking than when stationary or driving a car or even riding a bike. Herein lies one of the greatest pleasures of hiking alone – the uninterrupted spool of thoughts my mind reels though as I make my way. Not in the monkey-mind, chattery sense – but in a light, exploratory mode that moves along with my physical being and is let go the minute I step back out onto pavement and get into my car to go home.

This type of thinking seems qualitatively different than the kind  I do when driving long distances, matched to to the footfall perhaps. One person I knew once commented that to walk everywhere was “life at 4 km at hour” and he figured that was the optimal speed for the mind to activate. But, like a moving meditation, I find the act of sitting to write and capture the flow of those thoughts nearly impossible. To be stationary breaks the moving spell and I am again tethered to a single place, my mind sluggish after its romp through the forest. It’s this conundrum of needing to sit still to write after the freedom of movement that makes good nature writing so difficult. To have the experience of outdoors and then to attempt to set it to the page has always struck me as something that must be practiced always in order to find the balance between the modes – outdoor/indoor, moving/still, forest/city, earth/computer, organic/artificial.

But tis something I would like to practice, as impossible as it seems to me. This act of fixing dirt to the page, of scribbling undergrowth in the margins of my prose.

I’m currently reading two books of nature essays which I will share my thoughts on later this week. (Nature-essay being a form for which I have great affinity.) The question as always is what makes it work and how do I get there? Perhaps we’ll get more words out this fall than I have for the past few months. These forest jaunts certainly make me wish that to be so.

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