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From the Night Factory

46. My Favorite Therapy

When I am depressed, and recently I was depressed, I cannot write. The time had come to compose my next essay, which turns out to be this essay. This is why I can never be the scholar; I do not have the disciplined mind to divert my attention to a purpose. Instead, I obsess, my thoughts a looping maelstrom making no progress. I imagine a superior mind can halt the loop to focus on a priority and not allow itself to be distracted. I am not that superior mind and was recently infected with general unhappiness and self-pity, unable to function. Fortunately, I know a good curative for the fog that dulled my brain and choked inspiration. A long walk is excellent therapy.

It was a warm day with no threat of rain. We havenít had many of them yet. I drove to Five Mile Woods Preserve for my amble. There was only one other car on the gravel lot. It was a weekday afternoon when people are at work or in school. As I entered the park grounds, two young women were departing. We swapped smiles and hellos. It was probably their car.

Five Mile Woods is a labyrinth of trails that I have visited many times, but always with other people. I had never walked the scope of it. On this particular day, being alone, I was determined to hike the circumference of the park, sticking to the outermost trails, which I later estimated to be about 2 Ĺ miles. Always picking trails to the left, I circumambulated the park clockwise.

Designated trails had been cleared and often lined with dead tree limbs to channel the hiker. The trails were sometimes dirt, sometimes woven with roots, but sometimes mud. Where the ground was damp, there might be a pair of long, narrow planks, like rails. They presented a challenge. Stepping on one end had the far end of the plank leaping like a seesaw and my end sinking into the soil. When the ground was too soft for the long planks, someone was kind enough to build raised walkways of short planks arranged perpendicularly. It is a moderately civilized woods.

The forest floor was seasoned with tiny spring beauties, lesser periwinkles, and lesser celandines. There were white bluets at the foot of a towering tree and blue violets by another trunk that had fallen. Donít think for a moment my literary mind knew the names of these flowers. There was one year, long ago, this city boy went out with a pocket field guide to learn, yet I retained nothing with confidence. Like I said, Iím not a scholar. I took out my small pocket camera and photographed them to identify later. It was fun.

This early in the season, you can still see deep into the naked woods. I had expected to see deer. I see deer often in the other three seasons. They are so frequent, they must be avoided when driving, so how is it they can disappear in spring? Except for me, the forest was barren of mammal life. Not even a squirrel.

A great tree had tumbled, its broad network of roots hanging over the meandering stream that dislodged it. Other trees had fallen for no obvious reason. There were too many fallen trees and it evoked concerns of the foul effects of pollution or climate change. The forest was still a place of diverting beauty. The walk was having a positive effect.

Half way through the hike, I was forgetting the imbroglio of cyclical worry and my mind began to wander along with my feet. I plotted the assassination of a fictional enemy secret agent. I imagined driving across country again, but this time in a dream car, the Porsche Cayman, just the basic model with the six-speed manual gearbox. I revisited my favorite scenes from the original Planet of the Apes. With such thoughts in mind, I reached the end of the Atlantic coastal plain and commenced climbing the steep fall line onto the Piedmont Plateau. This impressive geological name signified a slope thirty-five feet high that caused my old knees to ache, caused me to breathe heavier, and had my heart drumming. By the time I arrived at the top, I was composing this essay; what words should I use to describe the experience?

At the highest point in this walk, I found a scattered group of small craters filled with dark water and strange particulates that looked like drops of tar. The craters were so nearly perfectly round, I didnít think them natural occurrences. I leave you with the mystery.

As the trail led down from the Piedmont Plateau, a wind came up and high above was a clanking, like loose spars hitting a mast. This mystery I can explain. The branches in the treetops were colliding. As yet they had no leaves to cushion the blows.

I had seen a few colorless birds at some distance. There was a lack of bird calls. Maybe birds donít sing as much in the afternoon. There were a few calls here and there by soloists, but none of the arias one can hear in the mornings or evenings. I imagine one bird after another was announcing my presence as I progressed along the trails. Perhaps that is why I didnít see any deer. But then another mystery.

A collection of American robins appeared, hopping along the ground in the direction I was going. Always in front, there were none behind me. It was as if they wanted to lead the way along the trail, but to what purpose? They often waited until I was close. If I stared, they stared back. If I turned my head away for a moment, that particular robin would have disappeared when I looked again. This went on for several yards and then they skedaddled. I donít know what they were expecting from me, but I hadnít brought my poetry to read aloud.

I was crossing a plank bridge over a slender stream and partway across I stopped. There were no fish in the clear water. No frogs, no turtles. Except for the robins, and a distant woodpecker I had heard knocking, I was still bothered by the lack of wildlife. I was determined to stand motionless, believing if long enough I was bound to see something.

Becoming as still as a statue, I hoped to be disregarded by unseen wildlife. I expected to catch movement in the corner of my eye and be rewarded with some small beast feeling safe and exposing itself. It has worked before. After a long spell of imitating a tree trunk, there was a plop! My head snapped in the exact direction of the sound. How splendid is human hearing, the aggressive machinery of the hunter, the defense mechanism of the hunted! I saw a floating sweetgum ball that had just landed in the water, as was shown by the ripples issuing from it.

By the time I had returned to the parking lot, empty but for my car, the earlier depression had completely vanished. It was another thing for me to ponder; how is it that bipedalism extinguishes depression, at least for me? We hominids left the trees and began strolling millions of years ago. Have we also become wired to derive a sense of well-being during this natural state that is a defining feature? It is as if to walk is our purpose, that in conjunction with this ability we have also evolved wanderlust. And it is not from the natural ambiance of the environment that I am healed, but just by walking, whether it is along Fifth Avenue or through suburbia with a dog. It is my favorite therapy.

Ms Keogh, my more significant other, says it is my second favorite therapy. She claims my first is a glass of Scotch.

Mr Bentzman will continue to report here regularly about the events and concerns of his life. If you've any comments or suggestions, he would be pleased to hear from you. 

Selected Suburban Soliloquies, the best of Mr Bentzman's earlier series of Snakeskin essays, is available as a book or as an ebook, from Amazon and elsewhere.