I often wonder if the forest knows what I need from it whenever I step into its domain. Today it was a refill of breath, of inspiration, a cleaning out of stale thoughts to make way for fresh ones. I didn’t know that going in, but I think the forest did.
St. Marks Summit trail is an 11 km hike through old growth forest in Cypress Provincial Park, about a half hour drive from downtown Vancouver. It’s an uphill climb with peek-a-boo views of Howe Sound along a well-maintained dirt, rock and tree root trail.
I ascend the trail in silence, passing hikers headed back down from the summit. Human conversations can be loud in an otherwise quiet forest; some of the hikers raise their voices to absurd levels. Just as I think I’ve cleared my mind and have settled into a rhythm mixing the sounds of my breath, footsteps and birdcalls, I catch another snippet of someone’s chatter about iPhones, Facebook and work stress.
But halfway up the mountain the incessant waves of loud hikers mercifully stop. Before I realize it, I’ve hit that sweet spot again where I feel my mind is being emptied out and refilled with new ideas. This process of mental renewal intensifies with each footfall.
Perhaps the process of replenishment that can happen on a hike is essential to thriving as a human being. When I settle into the silence, into the rhythm of the forest, a kind of creative cleanse takes place. My mind is cleared of its noise, its superficial babbling. Meanwhile, the notable creative output of others which I’ve picked up and absorbed – a great line in a movie or book or song, a piece of provoking art, stimulating ideas – come to the fore to be processed.
As I push up another steep incline, those ideas begin to mingle with my own and reveal something novel. The result for me is often a new creative output. It can take the form of a story idea, an insight, an article, or a dance step.
The process then continues outside of me. It ripples outwards. For example, an idea I come up with is expressed in writing, which is then internalized by a reader, who then comes up with something new, that is then expressed in their way, to be internalized by someone else, who then…
As I approach St. Marks Summit, I hear the excited voices of other hikers as they take in the stunning views of Howe Sound and the handful of islands in its bosom. Some of them too have made their own realizations, have had their own epiphanies, which they might come to share or express. I wonder: are they aware that they are going through their own creative cleanse?
I take in the views and then turn back to the trail: the forest knows that I need to continue replenishing my creativity. I garner more silence and the rhythm of my footsteps, finding new inner vistas to match the outer ones.