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Once again it’s post-holiday ramble time, a chance to unwind, relax and enjoy the outdoors with nothing nagging you but the need to be where the wild things are.
Most folks don’t stop to think about how tense and anxious their everyday lives are, from getting up in the morning (always a challenge in winter) to driving to work, putting in a long day on the job and driving home (with various detours and errands to be run) to deal with kids, dinner and chores. Toss in deer season, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s, all within a few weeks’ time, and you have the makings for a colossal nervous breakdown.
Fortunately, the cure is on the other side of the kitchen door. I have tried many times in the past to avoid going “out there” in favor of more lucrative or sensible pursuits, but I am one of many who can’t go more than a day or two without some sort of rat race respite. I fully understand why many Maine folks are grouchy, grumpy, depressed or dreary all winter – I just don’t like feeling that way! Believe it or not, spending the daylight hours roaming around in the woods or on a frozen lake can be just the cure. I don’t know the scientific reasons for it (something to do with UV rays, no doubt), but nothing else can lift your spirits and ease your anxieties like a day in the sunshine. While the grumps sit by the window and complain about the cold and snow, the rest of us are out there laughing and enjoying another great day in Maine.
I usually pick a day just after New Year’s when I have nothing much on the docket to just wander the woods in hopes that the recent holiday season and all its angst will suddenly fall off my shoulders. Past experience tells me it’s going to be an all-day event, so I fill my pack with water, food, my tin cup and gas stove, knowing full well I will end up on a snowy log somewhere where some hot tea and a fat sandwich will be just the therapy I need as we enter the uncertainties of a new year.
Any time I stop for a break I’m sure to be visited by the ubiquitous curious chickadees and noisy nuthatches. I find their company quite pleasant, surprising considering the cold, but they are always there. They help me realize that life can be rather simple, nothing more than the pursuit of seeds and insects in the bark of a withering spruce. Most of the animals in the woods are either hunted or hunting, all striving to live another day under extreme conditions. My problems seem pitiful in comparison. After nearly 60 years of it, I’ve come to realize that the work will get done and the bills will be paid . . . maybe not as fast or as soon enough as some demand, but done all the same.
My woodland rambles in January remind me that keeping up with the neighbors, chasing rainbows and dealing with failed plans are irrelevant to what’s real, and that is simply finding contentment in our lot. I admire the chickadee as he finds a seed and works to crack it open. Perfectly content is he to labor for several minutes for a bit of food that I can hardly see. I would get bored and go looking for something bigger to eat, but the chickadees and nuthatches seem perfectly happy roaming through the lower limbs of trees in search of another morsel.
One time during my January rambles I came upon a small herd of deer that were bedded on a south slope on a shelf of land that gave them a great view and protection from the wind. I actually had sat down to brew some tea and was looking over the nearby ridges with my binoculars, hoping to spot a fox or coyote in the open cover. At first I missed the deer because they were bedded so deep in the snow that only their heads and necks were exposed. They’d obviously been there a long time and had no intention of moving.
I made my tea, had my sandwich and was content to watch the deer for most of the afternoon, and it surprised me that they never moved. Other than flipping an ear once in a while or chewing their cuds, they simply lay there and soaked up the winter sun. Near dark I had to head for home, but those whitetails stayed put and were still in their beds when my route took me out of sight.
What surprised me was the deer’s calm demeanor. With no predators around, they were able to lay there in peace and gaze off into the distance like a group of contented cows. They knew, perhaps, that moving about meant wasting energy, and their fat reserves would hold them only so long. Winter deer are slow and deliberate in their movements, a far cry from the lively, tail-wagging denizens of the orchards and pastures we know in September. They still work hard to dodge danger at every turn, but their attitude is somber and calculating – no need to panic over every little thing.
After a day of woods watching, I find myself joining my wild neighbors in their wintry repose, coming home feeling calm and at ease with many of the issues that tore at me just a few days before. With a chance to collect my thoughts, make new plans and look to the future, I arrive at my door feeling better than I had in weeks. It’s a great way to revive one’s spirits going into another long winter, and I’m sure I’ll find my way out there again, if not to hunt or fish, but to refresh my spirit whenever the need arises. Nothing manmade has as soothing an effect as a day outdoors, and no matter what the weather, I come home revived and filled with enthusiasm.
If your spirits are lagging, head for the hills. Spend all the time you can in places where the only footprints are your own. You’ll be amazed at what you might find there!
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