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Jack Savage's Forest Journal: Getting lost in the woods the 'right way'


There is a right way and a wrong way to get lost in the woods.

The wrong way can happen to almost anyone. An off-trail adventure can lead to confusion. Some folks compound the problem by setting out alone on a strenuous hike on an unfamiliar trail late in the day dressed in a T-shirt and flip-flops, carrying nothing more than a half-charged cell phone while leaving the trail map in the car.

Given that 5 million to 6 million people visit the White Mountain National Forest every year - not to mention our state parks and conservation lands - it's no wonder that a few of those end up following this "get-lost-quick" recipe.

But I like to think there's a right way to get lost in the woods, and it's amazing what you can find when you do.

Here's how in seven easy steps:

1. Find some woods. For some of us, that may mean a tract of 1,000 acres or more. For others, a tree-covered half-acre will do. Hardwoods, softwoods, mixed - whatever.

2. Be still. You can sit, stand, lie down, climb a tree or perch on a rock - it doesn't matter. But stillness does.

3. Close both eyes. Concentrate on listening. The scratch of a chipmunk, chatter of a squirrel. Fade any sounds of civilization - auto traffic, airplanes - to the background, and listen for what's going on right around you.

4. Feel. Is there a breeze? Is it cooler under the shade of the forest canopy? Is there a shaft of sunlight that warms your arm or a rock nearby? Is the ground damp?

5. Inhale. Breathe deep. What can you smell? Imagine being an animal that depends on smell to find food or escape danger. Breathe deep again.

6. Before opening your eyes, picture in your mind the scene around you. Use your other senses to inform the images in your mind. Be specific. Is the bark on the tree nearest you smooth? Furrowed? Can you smell white pine?7. Finally, slowly open your eyes. Don't be in a rush. As you take in the scene, notice how well you did imagining the details. Look for them. Take note. No need to move - just look around you. Be aware of your surroundings.With any luck, you have left everyday life behind and are in the moment, lost in the woods. It can take practice. To-do lists and money matters and the other stuff of the "real world" are hungry for attention and sometimes don't step into the shadows willingly.

The best part of getting lost in the woods the right way is that it doesn't take an extraordinary place. No spectacular scenic view or dramatic waterfall is required. An ordinary patch of woods will do nicely. Just make sure if it's private land that the owner doesn't mind you being there.

The Forest Society offers any number of places where you are welcome to get lost in the woods the right way. We have woods in cities such as Concord and Portsmouth and Rochester, as well as in remote, wild places such as Washburn Family Forest in Clarksville and High Watch Preserve on Green Mountain in Effingham and the Ashuelot River Headwaters Forest in Lempster. You can learn about some of our forests online at www.forestsociety.org/ogol.

Please, be our guest. Go get lost in the woods. Just do it the right way.

"Forest Journal" appears every other week in the New Hampshire Sunday News. Jack Savage is the editor of Forest Notes: New Hampshire's Conservation Magazine, published by the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests. Email him at jsavage@forestsociety.org.

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