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Poor Will's Almanack: November 22 - 29, 2016

Carlo Scherer
Flickr Creative Commons

The foliage was still thick and lush when I entered the familiar woods one late September afternoon. I used to know those trails well, but now they had become overgrown, wilder than they were decades ago.

The path was not marked, but I felt I knew where I was going. How could anyone get lost here? It never crossed my mind. I wandered and daydreamed, not paying attention to where I was going.

And then, for a few minutes I was lost. My heart beat faster, and I picked up my pace. I knew where I was, but I was no longer certain that I knew. The leaves around me felt like a sudden darkness. The scrub woods became a barrier rather than a retreat.

I had no trouble finding my way back to the road, but reflecting on this sense of being lost, I returned to a small book a friend had loaned me, Wilderness Sojourn: Notes in the Desert Silences, by David Douglas. The author writes that the state of wilderness “depends not only on terrain and wildlife but upon one other quality: my vulnerability….. It is precisely the uncertainty, the possibility of peril…that is the value of wilderness.”

My brief September adventure had led me from my tame, exurban woods to the inner wild, to momentary, benevolent peril: preparation, perhaps, for less gentle lessons. From wanderer in nature, I had lost my way and had become an observer of myself in wilderness.

This is Bill Felker with Poor Will’s Almanack. I’ll be back again next week with notes for the fifth week of late Fall. In the meantime, remember: wilderness can be right where you are.

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Bill Felker has been writing nature columns and almanacs for regional and national publications since 1984. His Poor Will’s Almanack has appeared as an annual publication since 2003. His organization of weather patterns and phenology (what happens when in nature) offers a unique structure for understanding the repeating rhythms of the year.