This morning I really wanted to stay in bed. The room was dark, the sheets were cool, my husband was still sleeping soundly. I wanted to lay there, and then get up at my leisure, check my email and drink coffee. So instead of letting myself lay there and think about getting up and what I really wanted to do, I just got up. Somehow I managed to turn off my thinking and stumble through the physical motions of putting feet on the floor, gathering up clothes, getting a drink of water and finding the keys. I got in the jeep, drove 5 miles southeast and crossed the St. Croix River into the little town of Osceola, Wisconsin. It’s situated high on the bluffs overlooking the river valley, and the river this morning was as smooth as glass. I didn’t stop at the river today though, I continued on and went north through the downtown area as shops set up for the day and open signs flickered on. At County Road S, I turned left and found myself at the little parking area for one of Wisconsin’s “State Natural Areas.”
There are 373,000 acres spread out between 673 natural areas across the state, and they are used for research and education, the preservation of genetic and biological diversity and for providing benchmarks for determining the impact of use on managed lands. I appreciate them because they tend to be punctuated with more wildness and unknowns and refreshing energy than the surrounding more peopled areas. At any rate, this one on County S has proven to be a place where I can recalibrate or refocus when needed. Apparently this morning my body needed recalibration, and that need won out over my mind telling me to just do the same old safe and easy routine.
I parked the jeep in the empty lot and tied my keys into the laces of the ugliest pair of trail running shoes I’ve ever had and started jogging into the tree cover. (why are all women’s trail running shoes pink, or purple or turquoise or some other neon color?) The trail starts wide and takes you down to the river backwaters if you go straight. Today I turned left to cross the wooden footbridge over a spring fed creek and started running down a single track through a stand of tall pines. This single track takes you deep into the woods, and it’s always dark back there, no matter how bright the sun is shining. And quiet. It’s like someone turned the volume down and bumped up the contrast — it’s easier to notice the details, even when running. There are always deer and squirrels and a myriad of other small creatures scurrying about on the forest floor. One spring I almost stepped on a tiny spotted fawn, likely just days old, laying in the middle of the trail.
Today I followed the loop trail quickly and had two white tail deer for company while deep in the woods, a Pine Marten looking me in the eyes from a dead tree that had fallen across the path at the midpoint, and the sound of rushing waters moving downward toward the river valley after turning to follow the ridge of the creek bed back to the footbridge. I was reminded why it’s important to have contact with wild things. It brings things back into perspective and invites wonder into the ordinary, even if just for a moment.
Just 45 minutes after arriving, I was back at the parking area to head home into my work day. And now as I sit here looking at this screen, I’m glad I listened to the urge to recalibrate, and to make contact with the unpredictable nature of the things that inhabit the unpeopled places. Knowing that there are places with cold, tumbling water and deer grazing amidst a backdrop of the open space above the river valley and Pine Martens at home in trees that seem to reach up endlessly toward the sky………knowing these things exist in the world is enough to remind me what’s real. It’s not what’s on the screen.
“It’s safe to stay home and watch reruns of Star Trek and fiddle with Facebook and track digital gossip, but it’s also shallow and lifeless. Whether it’s with sharks or bears [or deer or running water] experiencing nature sets your foundations in a way an iPad never will. It has to do with contact. As Thoreau writes in The Maine Woods: ‘Contact! Contact! ‘ You can’t get contact from a screen” ~ Jack Turner