Yesterday, after an unwelcome absence my dogs and I returned to our favorite forest.

I had no goal except to allow one of my dogs to let me know if she was having problems with her breathing. If so, we would return to the car. As we entered the cool moist woods, the little hummingbird that lives at the forest edge swooped down to greet us. I unleashed both dogs and requested they stay with me – my oldest, Hope, is the one that is having breathing issues and coughing fits that frighten us both.

As long as Hope is relaxed she has less chance of having a spasm. We work as one unit most of the time and always as one in the forest. All I have to ask is please don’t bark, or wait, or don’t pull if on a leash, in the unlikely case that we actually meet another traveler (I’d like to take credit for their behavior but I can’t. They simply respond to my requests unless something is really wrong with a situation or a person, or another dog).

I was glued to the late summer forest floor, watching for ripening partridge berries, mushrooms, new growth on old tree stumps, hoping to see baby toads and frogs, while lifting my gaze to rippling water and mirror reflections – above and below are always reflections of one another. I got on my knees to feel the round pincushion moss that takes years and years to grow and only photosynthesizes when moist. Almost a prayer. The sweet ionized air smelled like more rain, and the sound of ribbons of water soothed and energized me at the same time.

I have entered heaven’s gate … When Forest walking, I return to a balanced state of health, probably because the trees release terpenes that purify the air; these 400 million-year-old relatives (we share 53 percent of our DNA with them) are my teachers and elders.

On and on we walked, the dogs stopping to scent animal trails, my eyes raised to the towering old hemlocks and below to the old pine stumps so full of life with seedling trees, shiny emerald wintergreen, rose-tipped hobblebush, lichens and mosses, the occasional flash of a scarlet maple leaf or a golden poplar, partridgeberry, and in a few places, snowberry vines. Our pace was slow, set by Hope. We wandered to the river’s edge where the waters were almost still so the dogs could sip clear nectar. I moved over the smooth stones warily, knowing how slippery wet moss can be. When we startled a male partridge, he exploded into the air but after speaking softly to him, the magnificent bird returned to the forest floor to swallow the ripe orange berries of a hobblebush.


Usually, it is Hope that wants to turn back, but today she seemed so relaxed and energetic that I followed her lead. Up the hills and down back into valleys… the ground is fashioned out of forest velvet, thick pine and hemlock duff; fairy houses appear in every aging tree trunk. Then I see a whole bunch of them. Tiny newborn toads hopping in and out of natural doorways under the surface roots of moss-covered trees.

I feel joy bubbling, for these beloved creatures are disappearing at an alarming rate because humans have been polluting the air, water, and soil for far too long, believing that they were somehow exempt from being poisoned by their own pollutants. We are learning the hard way that what will kill amphibians will eventually kill us too. Our ‘canaries’ ignored, despised, tortured in frog jumping contexts…

Allowing troubling thoughts to flow through me unimpeded left me once again in peace. I have done what I could to stop this holocaust.

I can sense that I am slipping into a light trance state …The whole forest is one magnificent Living Being and s/he has wrapped herself around me, stilling all thought. I become animal, like my dogs, all senses on alert. Time ceases, only the greening forest remains…

The rain surprises me. My thoughts return to my I phone that I brought along with me to take pictures. Hmmm… no place to keep it dry. Now I am the one who reverses directions, asking the dogs to follow. Both look up at me curiously as I explain that we need to leave the forest and return to the car.

Dutifully, they trot behind me until we meet a person with a big unleashed dog who remarks, “she’s friendly” while the animal bounds toward us (why do people with big unleashed dogs always say the same thing without taking action to stop their animals?). Disaster is averted when I pick up Hope and leash Lucy. Hope is outraged at the intrusion and barks hoarsely and then begins choking. Hurrying by, I stroke her throat soothingly and the spasm ends.

I hadn’t realized we had come such a long way and was grateful that the rain was light. I always forest walk like this, taking a path for as long as I choose and then returning the same way so I don’t miss a tree stump, animals sighting, plant, or berry. The naturalist in me knows that intimacy is born of repetition.

We reach the edge of the woods and pile into the car. Off to another secret place where we go to have quiet time. Once settled, the dogs have a snack and promptly fall into a deep and restful sleep. I peer around my surroundings, visiting with an ancient lichen-strewn boulder, an old pine, and some hemlocks all perched over a gorge. And here they are again! Tiny reddish brown toads that match the leaves like the dark ones that matched the rich moist soil on our walk.

Forests like this one that has been preserved for perpetuity are the only places left where nature’s processes continue uninterrupted. I am feeling such joy that I spontaneously begin to sing!

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