On Walking in Barren Woods, Alone


       By Andrew Hidas

If these leaves were raindrops fallen to earth I would be slogging through mud above my shins, but dried and golden they instead yield with a delicate shrush, my only concern being to lend them my weight gingerly lest my ankle land on a hidden root or rock that sends me tumbling through the hushed forest where no other sound intrudes. Barely off the busy thoroughfare, these barren woods a sanctuary, a quietude, no engine roar nor backlit screen suggesting the constant thrum of all the otherness one shakes off one’s boots in pursuit of another rootedness, of self and silence, untethered under pure autumnal skies. This falling-fallen-decaying-renewing cycle, old as time itself, playing out from treetop to forest floor in an endless vertical loop, unmoved by humankind but subject nevertheless to its assaults. But I walk here not for plunder nor profit, but only to still the traffic of the world and my own mind, to absorb the stillness of these woods, shorn of leaf and cone, the vistas stark with denuded trees, upright, preoccupied, like Giacometti stickmen, each to their own.

The fabled still point does not hide in these woods, does not shroud itself in the come-hither distractions of commerce and transient desire. There it stands, mute and open as the breezeless air, unbowed, enduring, wholly unto itself, offering everything it has but only what it is, to anyone who approaches in the reverence it does not ask for or need yet always deserves.




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8 comments to On Walking in Barren Woods, Alone

  • Mary  says:

    I love the quiet that descends as the leaves are shed and the bare branches give way to the sky. The glowing of the last leaves, the early dark, the cold, the remarkable light are the unique gifts of this season.

    In this part of the world (I think the weather folks call it “mid-Atlantic”) this lovely shedding continues right up until the winter solstice, making me wish every year that the competing energy and distractions of Christmas could be postponed for just a few more weeks. Just a few more weeks to pay homage to the waning light, the color, the quiet.

    Thanks for this, and for the incredible song that is the perfect accompaniment.

    • Andrew Hidas  says:

      With you in the desire for a bit more extended homage, Mary, whom do we petition for that? Thanks!

  • Robert Spencer  says:

    I love your denuded trees “expressionistic” simile “like Giacometti stickmen”. Your wonderful photo reminds me of my parents’ Connecticut forested backyard which had the Mt. Hope River (more stream than river) running through it. My children couldn’t wait to spend their Christmases there. Its natural beauty, especially after a snow, was a welcomed respite from our home in the concrete San Fernando Valley. Now…about the leaves…that image reminds me too much of my Illinois chorehood years when raking leaves and burning them in a gutter consumed too much of my autumn weekend free time.

    • Andrew Hidas  says:

      That “chorehood years” reference makes my day here, Robert, thanks a mill! A whole different take on fall leafing, to be sure, but seen from the child “chorer’s” perspective, completely understandable.

      Took another hike this afternoon, different woods, same scene, and what I realized with greater acuity than before is that while California certainly has more fall colors than people generally give it credit for, it’s the overwhelming abundance of leaves, their profusion, that truly separates the east coast from the west. The woods are much more dense and pervasive here, and trees compete like mad for nutrients & sun. Like everything in Cali, there seems to be more room for trees to do their thing there, and there’s simply not as many of them shedding as there are here. I used to think grains of sand were likely the most prolific corporal, visible element on earth (bacteria don’t count) but now I’m thinking leaves might give them a run for their money. (Although when I consider the treeless Sahara, etc., I suspect I may be wildly off there after all…)

  • Kevin Feldman  says:

    Thanks my friend, a lovely Thanksgiving poetic meditation. As usual I had to look up some word or phrase in your prose, the “Giacometti Stickmen” this time around—this Swiss sculptor’s stickmen are pretty darn cool (tons of good pics etc on the net). A Fall walk in the woods is restorative to one’s spirit, something I try to do daily w/my faithful canine companion Ms Bailey (the “Dali Lama of dogs” – or “Doggie Lama”)… it never fails to leave me in a better frame of body and mind!

    • Andrew Hidas  says:

      You’re most welcome, Kevin. A book I’m pretty certain you’d love, where I first came across Giacometti: William Barrett’s “Time of Need: Forms of Imagination in the 20th Century.” Chock-full of marvelous analysis of major artists and the intellectual currents they represented in the era: Mr.G, Faulkner, Camus, Hemingway, Woolf, et al. Highly readable; learned but not academic. Cheers to you & Ms Bailey!

  • Dennis Ahern  says:

    I find great comfort in those solitary places filled with “the vast indifference of heaven” (apologies Mr. Zevon) because I don’t matter there.

    Your Giacometti reference snapped me right into the the Guggenheim in NYC. When visiting there several years ago they were in the middle of a retrospective installation. Several pieces were installed on that spiral walkway while the central ground floor area was filled with packing crates awaiting unloading. I’ll never be able to see those stickmen ever again without thinking of that sight.

    • Andrew Hidas  says:

      Your chilling imagery of those figures on the spiral walkway inspired me to take it back yet another step, Dennis: to them being loaded and transported into crates, prepping for travel to a distant museum. Then the journey—one man per darkened crate, or maybe several per crate, separated by foam cushions, bobbing or bouncing up and down or side to side with the lolling of a boat or plane? Made them seem more alive to me than ever and likely to haunt some future dream or two, thanks a lot, pal! :-)

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