The Hills Are Alive

Frost covered the thick layer of leaves as I headed out on the trail. The meadow by the parking lot was still in the early morning shade, completely frosted over, the blades of tall grasses a new silvery color. The frost makes meadows of grass into seas of chrome, the way a field looks when the moonlight washes over it. I began the climb up, and I could hear the frost melting as I did. The ascent is quick, and I was up overlooking the tree tops, a light bit of mist rising from the leaves as they melted. It always amazes me how powerful the sun is–drying up rain, melting ice, warming us.

I was headed to a viewpoint, and I got lost in my thoughts as I did. Gunshots woke me from my reverie every so often; this land allows hunting, but I wear my orange hat and stay on the trails. I took off my down jacket and stowed it away as the climb got steeper. There was no one else on the trail. The best thing about early winter walking is how the landscape opens up. With all the brush and leaves gone, you are left with a more open lay of the land. You can see how the hills move and undulate, and your line of sight gets longer. It begins to be more about the land itself than the individual parts that compose it.

On the trail, I noticed the condensation forming on the rocks that were now exposed to sunlight. How far do the rocks go down, I always wonder, how big are they? I started thinking about the European concept of the land being dead (as opposed to Indigenous peoples’ view of connection and communion). That the land’s role is always a backdrop, “scenery,” and therefore we are just players acting within it. But when you are walking in the woods, even in winter when everything is seemingly “dead,” it’s still so alive. We tend to equate animation with animals, seeking out movement and life, but maybe we need to be even more still to see the land itself breathing.

What is consciousness anyway? We have to admit that humans really don’t know. When did people start believing that we were somehow separate? It’s obviously something you can think about for a while. Longer than a long walk in the woods. It was a mystery to consider, as I walked down the mountain. The rocks sweating cold drops of damp, the threads of mycelium under the leaves, the way the whole forest floor creaks with slight crackles as the frost melts when the sun hits it. All of it alive.

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