A Walk in the Woods

Today was a perfect day for a spring walk. It was about 60 degrees in Wisconsin and sunny a day before we’re scheduled to be under the threat of rain for the rest of the week. Last year, due to recovering from a cancer operation, I was only able to go on a couple of extremely short hikes and for me that was an incredible hardship. Today I pushed myself and went farther than I have been able to in a while, and while my feet are sore and I was physically exhausted, my soul was replenished.

Nature is where I center myself. It is where I go to be with myself and to reconnect with the wild, natural part of my humanity. In our modern world, we have separated ourselves from our ancient community with animals and plants. We live in cement, brick, and wooden boxes instead of living connected to the land. We watch television or cell phone screens instead of soaring eagles and bounding deer. I believe we need to know wild landscapes and wild animals in order to know ourselves better.

In a walk through the woods (or desert or prairie or tundra), both my spirit and spirituality are revived in ways they could not be otherwise. When I am walking a trail as I was today and a piece of an ancient tree drops down on the ground next to me I understand that it is just a simple moment in the life of that tree. It is a shedding of its skin on its slow cycles toward its ultimate end. And I understand that even a serious health issue like cancer is just a moment in my life and my inevitable decline and death. I can better accept that I may have died from the cancer last spring, but I am still alive at this moment, shedding my own skin and my own fears as I move closer to that day that I become the dust in the soil that will provide nutrients for another tree to start its life.

These are comforting thoughts to me. Hiking makes one more acutely aware of the cycles of life when you see the constant death and rebirth of the seasons, when you see the death of one being give life to another. It helps me believe that there will be a rebirth in some form for all of us, in one way or the other, whether it is the Heaven of Christians, reincarnation, or simply the energy contained within us transforming into something new and with more light and love than before.

At the moment, I am still recovering from cancer. It may get me yet. Or perhaps my heart, which has given me several issues in the last decade, will suddenly stop beating and not start again this time. Or some strange accident will take me. Whatever it is, whenever it is, I am okay with it. I am ready. I understand that in my living I am dying and that it is all a part of the circles of the universe.

About Callen Harty

Originally from Shullsburg, Wisconsin Callen Harty is the author of four books and numerous published essays, poems, and articles. His most recent book is The Stronger Pull, a memoir about coming out in a small town in Wisconsin. His first book was My Queer Life, a compilation of over 30 years worth of writing on living life as a queer man. It includes essays, poems, speeches, monologues, and more. Empty Playground: A Survivor's Story, is a memoir about surviving childhood sex abuse. His play, Invisible Boy, is a narrative with poetic elements and is also an autobiographical look as surviving child sex abuse. All are available on Amazon.com (and three of them on Kindle) or can be ordered through local bookstores, He has written almost two dozen plays and 50 monologues that have been produced. Most of them have been produced at Broom Street Theater in Madison, Wisconsin where he started as an actor, writer, and director in 1983. He served as the Artistic Director of the theater from 2005-2010. Monologues he wrote for the Wisconsin Veterans’ Museum won him awards from the Wisconsin Historical Society and the American Association of State and Local History. He has also had essays, poems, and articles published in newspapers and magazines around the country and has taken the top prize in several photo contests. His writing has appeared in Out!, James White Review, Scott Stamp Monthly, Wisconsin State Journal, and elsewhere. He has had several essays published online for Forward Seeking, Life After Hate, and The Progressive. Callen has also been a community activist for many years. He was the co-founder of Young People Caring, UW-Madison’s 10% Society, and Proud Theater. He served as the first President of Young People Caring and as the Artistic Director for Proud Theater for its first five years. He is still an adult mentor for the group. In 2003 he won OutReach’s Man of the Year award for his queer community activism. OutReach is Madison, Wisconsin’s lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender community center. He also won a Community Shares of Wisconsin Backyard Hero award for his sex abuse survivor activism work. He has been invited to speak before many community groups, at a roundtable on queer community theater in New York City, and has emceed several events. In 2016, Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault named him their annual Courage Award winner for his activism, writing, and speaking on sexual assault.
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