On Solitude and Walking in the Woods

True solitude is found in the wild places, where one is without human obligation. One’s inner voices become audible. One feels the attraction of one’s most intimate sources.”

— Wendell Berry

There are a plethora of quotes about solitude. So many that the idea has almost become a cliché, as if spending time alone, particularly in nature, is the answer to everything. But I think there is an underlying truth to the idea that solitude can bring forth a sense of peace through engagement with yourself. As someone who needs time away from people in order to hear my inner voice – my thoughts without distraction – I am a believer in the nourishing qualities of solitude. If I am continually engaging with people or other stimuli, I find myself unable to truly clarify, distill, and meditate on what is important to me.

Solitude was just what I needed a few weeks back. Not time away from but time with. Not an escape but an immersion. Time to ask myself – and really hear the answer – regarding what was the right thing to do going forward, what was the right path for me to take. And so I opted to take a day to walk, alone, in the Sangre de Christo Mountains.

I had no destination in mind as I drove into the national forest a few days after Christmas. I knew that unseasonably warm temperatures would mean an absence of snow at higher elevations so I unconsciously figured I would drive until I reached the highest trailhead. But as I passed the parking area for the Borrego Trail I noticed a complete absence of cars – a total surprise since I have never passed by without a dozen vehicles crammed into the pullout. Because of this I’d never considered hiking here before and didn’t really know anything about the trail. It seemed like fate however so I parked and Abby and I began walking.

The trail turned out to be perfect: an easy 4 ½ mile loop with less than a thousand feet elevation gain. No distractions, no challenges, only silence. I let my legs move my physical body through the trees and released my mind. Abby kept pace as usual, companionably trotting ahead or behind me without my supervision. As thoughts arose that required greater attention I would engage them and the forest setting would fade, but I also occasionally shifted my attention to the sights around me when I needed to re-focus. It was during these moments that I became conscious of how utterly beautiful my surroundings were – and I took a few photos as an appreciation of what was physically around me.

Around mile 2 I crossed Tesuque Creek for the first time, and spent minutes standing and crouching next to the water, listening to the gurgle and watching the flow dance under the ice. It was captivating, hypnotizing, meditative. As I paralleled the water over the next three-quarters of a mile I often found myself gravitating to the banks of the creek, listening, watching. And by the time the trail began climbing out of the canyon I had my answers. Immediately energized, I was ready to return to the RV and begin preparations to leave Santa Fe. The time of contemplation was over and the time of action had arrived.