Thursday, March 13, 2014

My dream

Recently I asked a friend where she and her family go to walk in the woods, not realizing that not everyone considers it as necessary as breathing (the jury is not out--it is).  During Bible study one night, we discussed the question, "How did you used to find meaning in life?"  "How do you find it now?" with the implication that before finding religion, it would be normal to find meaning in drugs, sex, partying, etc.  Though I said nothing (the meeting was in Germany and my German is rather weak), I thought to myself that I was always closest to myself, that I found the greatest joy and meaning in life while experiencing the outdoors, whether walking, cycling, skiing, snow-shoeing, and I still do to this day.

The green-spaces in my vicinity are drying up.  Luckily there is one small patch of wood nearby and the owner has even generously cut trails through it.  I keep meaning to go meet him and thank him as I suspect this tiny wood may have saved my life.

Now I don't mean to be ungrateful, but I also believe the configuration of this space, which is right beside my house, is somewhat inauspicious.  It's not an easy concept to explain, but lately I've become interested in Feng Shui, not as some mystical art, but as basic common sense.

For instance: where do you camp?  If you park your tent along a sometime game-trail in a corridor between the trees on a windy night, as my sister and I once did, you will not sleep well.  In Feng Shui, we think of "energy" or "chi" moving out from the camp-site along the trail, but I think a better word for it would be "spirit."  Energy already has a precise definition in physics.  Spirit, by its very nature is ethereal--difficult to measure and without physical form.  Surely the low level of stress of the wind threatening to blow away the tent and the possibility of feral animals wandering into the camp-site would serve to reduce our spirit?

Quite the opposite of a camp-site, parks ought to "breathe," the spirit flowing uninterrupted through trails and other connections, but with sheltered pockets where it can "pool."

Living in Washington D.C., there were at least two routes out of the city that weren't open to motor vehicles.  There was the W & OD trail, built on an old rail line, that ran West along the Orange Line through Falls Church out to Leesburg, ending up just past the first hump of the Blue Ridge mountains and just shy of the Appalachian Trail (AT)  Then there was the C & O canal towpath that ran along the Potomac, joining the AT for a short distance.

I used to take the commuter train or cycle along the W & OD to escape the tension of the city and hike along the AT.  These long distance trails were linked to a network of smaller trails: through Rock Creek park, along the rivers, yes, even through my own, ghettoized neighbourhood in Temple Hill near Anacostia.

I couldn't help but think of these trails as a lymphatic system in the body of the Capitol region.  Transporting the bad spirit from inner city crime, drug gangs (not to mention the dealings of the Whitehouse), and racial tensions out into the surrounding countryside, where it could be purified.

Back to the wood behind my house: it is bordered on three sides by houses.  On the fourth side you used to be able to ski to a golf course, but now the owner of the next property over (not the immediately adjacent one) has erected a fence which blocks you.

The last time I skied in Gatineau park I took lunch in one of the "chalets": wood-heated cedar cabins with picnic benches inside.  I'm certain that these were copied from the Scandinavian countries where skiing is a way-of-life.  I'm also certain that they lost something in the translation.  I imagined these being, not lunch stops for spandex-clad racers bombing along meticulously-groomed snow-highways that form useless circuits, but rather way-points for travellers skiing a single-track trail through the middle of the woods.  A trail that usefully connects two points, that actually goes from one place to another.

I'm trying to imagine a world where I can put on a pair of skis starting at my house and ski for the rest of the day without crossing or retreading the same stretch of trail.  Where I can sling a backpack and hike through the woods until I actually get somewhere, somewhere that I need to go, rather than back again to the noisy, inefficient motor-vehicle that transported me to the trail-head, ten times the distance I ended up hiking that day.

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