I hugged a tree the other day. It was along a path I have walked several times in the woods across the street from where we live now. I had paused to look around and suddenly the idea popped into my head: No one is here to laugh or stare at me with raised eyebrows, I am free to do this, the last time was years ago (when this picture was taken of me hugging a California Redwood). Hugging a tree is one of those private, spontaneous opportunities we can respond to or walk away from, sort of like life, don’t you think?
So I swung my right arm around the girth of a 20-foot hemlock, like a teenager hanging out with a boyfriend, and balancing myself against its trunk, leaned back so I could see blue sky through the haze of branches. It’s been many years since my old tree-hugging days, I had almost forgotten the immediate sense of peace and stability and acceptance for where I am at this moment. No past, no future, just an awareness of the dazzling reality of BEING.
I can walk trails here every morning and every afternoon if I want to, there is hardly any dog poop on these trails like there was where we lived in NJ, not to mention bears. The best part of being here is coming full circle to what fed me as a child: walking in the woods, being alone in a forest, there is even a cathedral of hemlocks mounted on a crag where the trail spills onto an open field where Song Sparrows, Cardinals and Juncoes dart among the shrubs. The hemlocks’ interlocking branches and lacy canopy seemed to spin as I looked up and beyond them to see a pair of Ravens soaring. It reminded me of “what used to be” in my former NJ home but there are few hemlocks there now, housing developments and the dreaded wooly adelgid have had their way with them.The half dozen slender hemlocks we so carefully nurtured on our property in NJ were cut down by the new owners.
The path is part of the Trail Around Middlebury, the “TAM,” a footpath over 16 miles long that encircles the village of Middlebury and links several hundred acres of town land, conserved properties, schools, and other local landmarks. There are many unmarked trails switching back and forth across the TAM, all going this way and that, some created by human feet, others by paws and bicycle tires. I am learning the network of what path goes here and there and where they hook up back to the TAM, look…this one leads away from the road and joins the TAM after you pass the fallen white birches, this other one heads down to the trail head at the end of DWire Street cul-de-sac and then back home.. And all the pines, oaks, hemlocks and maples on the way, mine for the hugging.