AMPLIFICATIONS: A walk in the woodsMore Info
Lee –– I am not what you would call an outdoorsy person. I grew up in the city and my idea of a pleasant outdoor space has delineated paths, benches, perhaps a pond or a fountain and lots of people to watch.
Give me a nicely maintained park or a botanical garden and I can while away an afternoon, reading, strolling, staring. Put me in the woods and I cringe.
The last time I went for a walk in the woods was about 12 years ago. My dear friend Barb was in town and we headed to the Pleasant Valley Wildlife Sanctuary in Lenox. It was early autumn and the day was hot and humid. The sanctuary was officially closed, but we were just going for a walk, so off we went. Did we look at the maps? Of course not. Did we bring bug spray or water? Why would we plan ahead? It was just a walk, after all.
We strolled through the wetlands and off the wooden path into the woods, chatting and not paying attention. When it was time to turn around, we were the ones turned around. We just could not find the way out. By then we had been clomping around for about an hour and my knee, which needed surgery, was starting to throb. I was also starting to panic.
No one in my life would be surprised that I’d wander off without preparation, but Barb is a scientist who is perfectly comfortable in a forest; this was out of character for her. Me? I kept expecting the toothless guy from “Deliverance” to jump out from behind a tree. Or that we would soon meet Creepy, the eighth dwarf and no one would ever know our fate.
Barb tried handing me a long stick. “For walking,” she said.
“It’s dirty,” I said. “I don’t want to touch it.”
Thirty minutes later I was grasping the aforementioned piece of grubby wood and limping along behind my friend. I finally sat on a log and yelled, “Just leave me. Save yourself.”
Clearly Barb figured out how to get us home, but I was done with getting that up close and personal with trees. Gardening was not much better. When I first moved here from Boston I gave it a try. Did I read a book or ask for help? Nope, I dug a convex hole and put herbs in it. Later, I watched them drown, as the topsoil should have been concave. Or flat. I never did eat the herbs that survived because I divided the plot with treated wood. Treated with arsenic. I was so filthy from this ill-conceived venture that my laughing mother took a photo, as she had never seen me dirty before.
That was the other thing about gardening. You have to actually touch dirt. You have to kneel in dirt. The sun beats down on you. Nope, after that I went back inside, where the books and movies and crossword puzzles live; back where I belong. Now I garden in pots and if someone brings me veggies I am happy to can them. I don’t mind mess, but sticking my hands into dirt makes me profoundly uncomfortable. Don’t even get me started on camping.
My neurosis is very dirt specific, however, as I could sleep under the stars next to an ocean. I don’t mind sand in my shoes or in my clothes. I can walk for hours on a crowded or empty beach and am perfectly happy and never fearful. Ditto for a park. I grew up in an inner city neighborhood. I have smacked pickpockets and dealt with all manner of personalities on subways, so I’ve never been afraid of anyone I met in a park. Plus, you can sit on benches and read for hours.
Last week, I discovered a wonderful blend of academia and the kind of nature I find acceptable. I went to school at Tanglewood. One Day University appears every year and on a gorgeous and sunny day I heard lectures titled: American Foreign Policy, The Science of Sleep, and Climate Change. Classes were held in Ozawa Hall and when the last question was answered hundreds of people sat on the lawn and listened to Beethoven’s Ninth.
I honestly thought I had died and gone to heaven. The idea of One Day University is brilliant. Professors from top universities and colleges give charismatic and informative lectures. There are no tests and enrollment is easy. Classes are taught all over the country, giving people a chance to stretch their brains without committing to lengthy courses. I wish I had thought of it. (firstname.lastname@example.org; 800-300-3438)
The combination of academia and a nicely clipped lawn, along with classical music, had me so excited I was actually counting the days before I went. I will be there again next year. And if anyone knows about classes in a park, or a museum courtyard, or next to a lake, drop me a line. I might even consider a trek amongst the trees if someone could teach me the various flora and fauna, as long as they tether me to the teacher and promise to get me out alive.