Our Wilderness Trail
Why we walk our forest trails
The allure of walking a forest trail is difficult to explain. To be sure, the restful, calming feeling of being surrounded by only nature is wonderful. The view pleases the eye. But it is beautiful disorder, and a welcome departure from the dreary order that we create wherever we exercise control. A forest is not optimized or photo-retouched. No pruning, culling, or management is evident. No attempt has been made to maximize the tourist experience. The colours are often more muted than we're used to, and the palette may lack paint-store vibrancy, but these tones are primal: our species has evolved by interpreting and judging them. After a while the colours just feel right, with mid-tones and highlights blending the way we are supposed to see them.
The sounds are subtle, and more difficult to perceive and appreciate. We live in a world where we are trained to speak up to be heard, where advertising deafens us, and mass media favours the loudest messages. Here the wind whispers through the cedars, just audible on a quiet day. The deer grass at our feet hushes our footsteps to near-silence. The sounds of the forest trail are usually small and cryptic, requiring us to stop and analyze: was that two chipmunks chasing each under through the forest litter, or something bigger? For that matter, what do black bears sound like? At times like this, the audio-explosion of a disturbed pheasant is all the more shocking and exhilarating, shattering the serenity, and sharpening our future awareness.
A stroll down a forest trail can be like walking a gauntlet of heavy and dank smells, as the soils and rock breathe to the sky above, and the sun, in lifting their volatile organic compounds, sets them adrift around us, filling our senses with a uniquely earthy pleasure. We might turn to a hiking partner and say with happiness, “Can you smell the forest?” It certainly isn't in the same odour class as a lovely perfume, or a steaming restaurant entree, or your favourite shampoo, but it is profoundly affecting. How did we come to possess that appreciation of the forest, where those inhalations ignite something inside? Perhaps our genes remember things that we don't, and remind us where we come from.
We live in a province which has cut down 95% of its virgin forest, hardly an example to the developing world. For much of our short history here, we have lived at the expense of our forests, more a parasite than a member of the ecosystem, becoming stronger as it weakens. Perhaps future generations will forgive our foolish shortsightedness. Clipped and trimmed parkland and rolling farm vistas cannot replace what has been lost. Much has been taken from our forests, and yet some remains. Thankfully, there are still things that may be removed from the forest, while doing no harm. Take from your forest walk what you require to nourish your soul, and the deeper needs that all of us harbour. Take the sights, sounds and smells, and rekindle the wonder that our world quenches in its planned and groomed landscapes. Join us for a forest walk!