Friday, February 28, 2014

My Sense of Direction

The view from Fort Mountain, GA.
Locally, there are several trails I keep going back to hike again.  For some adventurers, this may seem boring.  For me, I keep looking for something I have missed before.  A bird's nest hidden in a tree, blooming wildflowers in spring or seed pods in the fall, the eroded riverbanks of a stream, miniature sand dunes swirled by the rain.
Sometimes the sounds are different.  Working in media has attuned me to the different strata of silence.  The sound of the wind through pine trees is much lighter and 'swooshier' than it is through oaks and hardwoods. The rustling you hear over there, is it a snake, squirrel, a wren or the wind?  Bamboo makes it's own hollow clinking tune in the wind, as do large open spaces and lakes have their own wind sounds.
The sky is also different with the type of local weather that day.  This can make colors seem brighter or duller, and can bring some colors out that you never noticed here before.  It reflects with a clear sparkle on lake waves or with bright blotches on streams under cloudy bright skies.  It allows you to see the different shapes of intricate spider webs, makes some blooms appear or disappear, can bring out the gnarliness of an Live Oak tree's bark or fade the reds of a wild rose.  Rain also changes color, sometimes cleaning the dust and pollen away, sometimes running the colors together like a water color painting.
In hiking these trails again and again, I don't have to pull out a map at the next junction, I just turn and go the right way.  I can pay more attention to the moment of now.  I know the car is in 'that' direction, or the spring is 'over there', because I have been here before and remember.  The overall locale is written to my awareness like a map, and I don't need to pull out a compass to find my way.
Hiking the same trails a lot also keeps me feeling comfortable in the outdoors.  I like being out in the weather and enjoy hiking in the rain, feeling the wind, and smelling the life.  There is usually no one else out there on the trail during the rain, so I often have the trail to myself.  It is nice to meet others along the trail, because they are also there for the peace.  But I do enjoy solitude.  Walking with my wife or a friend is good also, as they notice things I may miss and provide welcome company to share the moment with.
Even the paved trails are nice for a walk or a spin on the bicycle.  I watch for birds and turtles along the Seminole-Wekiva Trail, look for what is blooming in the back yards along the way and enjoy the overall quiet you get in nature.
I do have a photographic memory of maps.  It is like I am looking down from a high place and see the land below in great detail.  On a trip several years ago my wife and I had driven up I-75 to Fort Mountain in Georgia from Central Florida.  We wanted to watch the sunset, so we hiked to the old stone Fort and then took the trail to the western overlook, where the valley below and the sweep of the wild Cohutta mountains to the north spread out below us like a table.  The sun was about to set and the scene was beautiful, with clear skies to the horizon.  I was pointing out the the roads, courthouse and stream in the town of Chatsworth below that we drove through when my wife made the comment that I was reading the land like a map.  And I was.
When hiking, backpacking, bicycling or canoeing in a new place, I follow ridgelines in my mind, noting the contours of the topography, following drainages, or the flow of the river.  I notice the prevailing winds and the general types of trees and plants along walking paths and how they change.  This happens even when I have not been there before, but I still seem to know where to turn, and usually which is the right direction to go.  Some people think I have an unusually good sense of direction but it is really from constant observation, and by turning myself around in relation to the outdoors instead of turning the compass and map around on the ground.  I almost always look at maps before I venture out and seem to remember them in great detail, so that is what is turning inside my head as I change direction.  Don't get me wrong, I still need the security of a compass.  But once I have my general direction, I'm set and will follow the path to my next turn.
And that is what I like about the outdoors.  I belong there.

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