Extended Metaphor In the Woods

Photo by Lukasz Szmigiel via Unsplash 

Photo by Lukasz Szmigiel via Unsplash 

Today I went for a walk in the woods. 

[Editor's note: those of you who know me from certain circles of my life may be asking yourself: "What? A walk in the woods? Are you okay?!" And those of you who know me from other circles of my life may be saying: "of course you did. And what a day for it. Lovely!" And that's a whole other blog post for another time.]

I'll start by admitting that I have approximately zero experience with walking in the woods. But I was pointed in the direction of some trails by a friend, and I just went for it. So far, my experience has been limited to walking on roads and sidewalks, where there's no thinking involved and no choices to be made. 

I was struck by the fact that there are nearly limitless options for paths to take. There are a few well-worn paths discernible to the eye, some places you can see upon additional inspection, and some places that are covered with tree limbs or overgrowth and clearly only for the intrepid. I didn't really know where I was going, but I just kept moving. 

At times, the path I was on split ahead of me, and I needed to make quick decisions: left or right? Stop to think or keep my pace? Overwhelmingly, I chose to continue moving forward, even though I couldn't see where the path would lead or what I might be giving up by choosing one route over another. I saw some sun and walked toward it; I saw some steep climbing and went for it. 

At one point, it occurred to me that I hadn't planned my exit; I was moving forward without taking note of important markers or geographical features. I would not recommend this under more extreme circumstances, but this was a trail in a park with no real risk of danger (not, for example, the summit of Mount Washington). It was the middle of the day, and I could be relatively certain that no matter what, I would find a way out and all would be well. Imagine my surprise when the path I had randomly chosen began descending down the hill - I was making my way back down without needing to choose the "right moment" to do so. 

A few minutes after that, I encountered a creek. It was lovely, and I could hear the sounds of the water babbling by. As I took a moment by the water, I noticed that I couldn't see a way across it, or really any pathway forward. I walked in circles for a moment as mild panic started to enter my mind. I trudged across some spongy forest floor, only to look behind me and realize that I had been on a path the whole time I was beginning to be nervous about being "lost." I was on a path the whole time, but I couldn't see it. I let my panic creep in although I was totally fine. 

I know I'm laying on the metaphor pretty thick here, and I'm reminded of a literature class I took in college where there was mention of ringing a SYMBOL GONG every time a particular author began to use that literary device. But especially now, at the beginning of the academic year, it feels too rich not to share what I learned today during my walk in the woods: 

You can't always know where you are going. 
Make choices that feel right, and trust yourself. 
Sometimes, you'll do well following in the footsteps of others. And sometimes it's more fun to see what would happen if you didn't. 
Keep moving; eventually it will all be okay. 
You may end up somewhere totally unexpected. And that's really cool. 
Little flags on the trail might mean "Go this way!" and they might mean "BEAR FOOD BURIED HERE." Sometimes a little bit of preparedness is really worth your while. 
And sometimes, preparedness is overrated. 
Overthinking is usually disruptive to your actual lived experience. 

Happy New School Year, everyone. 

Trust yourself. See what happens. 

Photo by Steve Halama via Unsplash

Photo by Steve Halama via Unsplash

Emily Jaworski