You need a break in solitude

FINALLY, a free afternoon. You still have a long to-do list, but the heck with it. Everything can wait for a few hours, so you light out for your favorite trail. Good for you. You deserve a break; a bit of quiet solitude.
Fresh air and exercise are just the tonic you need. Beyond the racing heart and pounding chest, there is a smile on your face and a renewed pep in your step. Surely, this is all good medicine. But as you walk the trail, what sort of experience are you having? How connected are you to the natural world you are walking past?
I always preach the importance of leaving behind the distracting gadgets and iToys when we walk in nature. They are a barrier to connecting with the magic out there. Truth be told, I can talk a good game, but as I walk, I often catch myself planning or worrying; not fully connected with the magic around me. My “monkey mind” has hijacked my awareness and my thoughts swing from one far-flung thought to another. I am present in body only.
Tina Welling, in her book “Writing Wild,” suggests a simple recipe for getting closer to the natural world. On what she calls her spirit walks, as she encounters things along the way, she follows a simple progression of awareness: name, describe, interact.
Name. Any relationship begins with an introduction. By naming the things we pass, we close down our monkey mind and bring ourselves back into the here and now. At first, the names we give may be as simple as flower, bird, or tree. Later, the names may change as our relationship deepens: shooting star, dark-eyed junco, California buckeye. But we have broken the ice, and we have taken the first step in connecting with the things around us.
Describe. If a tree robbed a liquor store, the police would ask, “What did the tree look like, Ma’am?” Well, it had a stout trunk with very smooth bark. Its branches reached out wide and bent low nearly touching the ground. The leaves were deeply lobed with pointed tips. Most had fallen off, and the remaining ones were tinged with a muted yellow. It was loaded with acorns, and it smelled
like rain.
Hopefully, the tree we are describing is a law-abiding member of the forest, but as we look closer, our relationship grows deeper. Now, it has personality, and we have looked close enough to see it, not just with our eyes, but with all our senses. Smell the California sagebrush, black sage, or bay leaves. Touch the bark of a valley oak or pick up the cone of a gray pine (ouch!). Listen to the birds flit through the tree tops.
Interact. As the bond deepens with our trailside companions, an exchange can take place. Reach out. Smell the air; feel the warmth of the sun on your face; hear the leaves crunch beneath your feet. How does your body feel? Tense? Relaxed? Is some emotional response or moment of insight bubbling up inside you?
Exercise and fresh air are important, but a walk in the wild offers incalculable gifts beyond the physical ones. We can begin to reap those gifts with three simple steps: name, describe, interact. On the beach, in the woods, on the hilltops, I will use this recipe to quiet my rambling thoughts and tune in to the beauty and mystery of the natural world. I have glimpsed through the fog often enough to know that the effort is worth it.