I’m celebrating a nature anniversary of sorts. Just about a year ago, I started hiking regularly again. The 300 or so miles I’ve hiked since then aren’t all that much in the grand scheme of things, but they mean a lot to me. They’re representative of a major change in my life, one that I spent a long time thinking would never come.
For the past few years, I’ve been dealing with fatigue. Major fatigue, ugly fatigue, deeply frustrating fatigue that kept me from doing the things I wanted to do—especially things that involved physical activity.
More than once, I set out on a hike and turned around immediately because I felt dangerously weak, too exhausted to put one foot in front of the other. The nasty voice at the back of my mind said that I simply wasn’t trying hard enough—that I was lazy, a failure, just being silly.
As it turned out, the voice at the back of my mind was wrong. There were some very real medical issues causing my fatigue, as well as other symptoms. It took time to get those issues properly diagnosed, and then more time to find interventions that worked for me, and then even more time to allow those interventions to take effect.
But it did get better. Bit by bit, imperceptibly, my energy returned.
Just about a year ago, one weekend, my husband cajoled me into visiting a park he’d found. I was reluctant to go at first—the last time we’d gone out to the woods, I’d found myself feeling too weak to even attempt our intended trail, and I’d cried on the way home. I didn’t want to confront, yet again, my own inability to experience nature in the ways I found satisfying.
I went along with it that day, though. I went, and I was shocked and delighted to feel that my legs were steadier underneath me than they’d been in recent memory. My mind was less foggy, my vision clearer. Unbelievably, the fatigue had started to lift.
All around me, the quiet, lush, late-summer woods were waiting, changing constantly in detail, but still essentially the same organism that had welcomed me so many times before. I’d missed them more than I could put into words, but I’d shunted that grief aside while I was sick, trying not to focus too much on things I couldn’t have, no matter how much I wanted them.
All that time, the woods, my woods, had saved a space for me. It was time for me to come home.
The park we visited that day was Middlesex Fells, the urban oasis north of Boston that has become a regular stomping ground for me. I visit regularly now, sometimes more than once in a week. While it’s not the wildest park, it gives me a sense of place, and a chance to get to know the incredible density of natural marvels that lurk everywhere.
I still get tired. I’m not the most energetic person, and I’ll likely never be. Human bodies and brains can be very frustrating sometimes, especially when they interfere with my plans. (In fact, as I’m writing this, I’m stuck at home for the week, nursing an injured ankle and grumbling about not being out in the woods.)
But as this anniversary approaches, I’ve found myself overwhelmed with gratefulness for my reclaimed ability to investigate and appreciate nature. My muscles are getting stronger, my endurance is building, and more often than not, my tiredness at the end of the day is peaceful and satisfied. It’s a good tired.
I’ve explored new environments—the flat expanses of the Everglades, the modest peaks of Acadia National Park—and gained a new resolve to explore more. I’ve discovered that against all expectations, I love steep, rocky trails. I’ve taken thousands of photos and put my beloved camera through endless trials, which it’s borne admirably.
Every day, I learn more about the incredible world around me, from the names of the most common wildflowers to the broad reach of the underlying network of fungi and microorganisms. I don’t know exactly what I’m building toward, but I know that every experience and piece of information I add to that storehouse of knowledge is precious.
There is so much out there to see. There is so much left to learn. There’s no one right way to exist in the world, but this is the way that’s right for me, for now. I’m so thankful that I got to go back to the woods.