Since 2012, James and I have made it our New Year’s tradition to go for a long hike in the woods every January 1st. While it’s just one more reason not to stay up late New Year’s Eve, our little tradition often provides us with our fondest memories of winter here in Northern Michigan.
When else but the holidays can we shrug off most of our cares and just head into the winter woods? Once we have to clock back in at work post-holidays, with daylight so scarce, we don’t have many opportunities to get out into the snow. Turns out, snow days are very rare for the adult species!
For me, walking in the woods — especially in the quiet of winter — is more about collecting my thoughts and brainstorming than seeking out unique wildlife sightings or iconic scenic vistas (though those are always a plus!).
There are many trails that are easy winners for sight-seeing and sharing with out-of-town family and friends, but I also have a closely-guarded short list of equally beloved trails which I visit solely for stepping into the woods and letting go for a while.
New Year’s Day is one of those occasions when you might find yourself simultaneously wanting to let go and grab on: letting go of last year while grabbing on to hopes for the year ahead. So, it’s why — when James asked where I’d like to go for our hike — I immediately said Leelanau State Park. I didn’t even offer a list of options for a change!
With about 6 inches of fresh snowfall, it was just enough snow to be beautiful without requiring snowshoes. Still, walking in snow makes for slow going (nothing at all like the leisurely gait of an autumnal hike through fallen leaves). Being forcibly slowed down by nature is not without its benefits.
As I explained to James as we trudged between trail marker 9 and 8 (the longest stretch of trail with no intersection or signposts), walking in this kind of forest is like walking through a notebook for me. Surrounded by quiet, repetitive scenery and little more than the trail commanding me forward, my mind is quieted and I’m able to pick up ideas and examine them, audition them and re-play them.
This sort of quiet, self-reflection is precisely what I need, too, since this year I’m faced with the amazing opportunity to compose for string orchestra (!) and possibly full orchestra (!!). For those who aren’t musically-inclined, going from writing chamber music to writing for orchestra would be like going from Crayola’s box of 8 crayons to the big box of 152 — a dazzling choice of shades and combinations!
When first approached about this, it was everything I could do not to leap into the air… then, later (approximately 10 whole minutes later), my familiar anxieties started to set in. You’ve always wanted this to fall in your lap, but you have no experience other than book-learnin’! Are you ready to embarrass yourself?! Do you even have ideas worthy of that many musicians? Sigh…
of ice have spread across the windows
and everything is perfectly still
until you catch the sound of something
lost and shy beating its wings.
And then: music.
— from “The Complexity of Music” by Jane Mead (1958-2019)
Since I have no intention of shying away from one of the most significant musical opportunities I’ve ever been offered, I definitely needed a few moments in the woods to simultaneously let go and grab on to a few things. Doubtlessly, I’m not done with the woods, either! I’ll be going back as often as possible between now and spring. There’s so much music out there to be found…
Though we were walking together and chatting as we went, there were countless, immeasurable moments where James and I were completely silent, each of us lost in the forest of our own thoughts. Alone but together… alone together.