This year, I have run intermittently in the Guilford woods. I am a person who needs a team, or a workout partner at least, to keep a consistent exercise routine. I love to move, but ever since graduating high school I have found it increasingly difficult to find movement in my day to day. This pandemic-year especially has been a challenge for me. It is both a great gift and a significant burden that something as simple as movement is so connected to my emotional state. This year I have struggled to get into a consistent habit of exercise and the longer I have gone without movement the worse I have felt overall. As I have felt worse I have been less inclined to move. It is a cruel feedback loop that I wish terribly could be inverted.
I miss the ease of movement I used to have. A year ago, or two, I was constantly seeking and finding movement in my day to day. I would run up flights of stairs and jump on ledges. I would climb trees and roll through the grass. I still do these things, but they are not intrinsic to how I move in the world anymore. If I want to climb a tree I have to set it as an intention, carve out time to pursue it, and follow through on my personal commitment. I think, and hope, that the loss of my intrinsic tendency towards movement is a product of the pandemic we are currently in.
Wednesdays are my hardest day of the week. I usually wake up at 8:00, work until 10:00, go to class from 10:00 to 12:00, go to work meetings from 12:00 to 3:00, after which I start my tasks for my job and homework. I have a really difficult time being on Zoom for five hours straight. What I need after all those meetings is outside time, and movement, but I often feel too beat down to do anything beyond making myself a snack and scrolling or reading or watching TV. On a recent Wednesday I left my work Zoom feeling especially dejected, so I called my mom, who encouraged me to go for a walk outside. As I often am, I was led to the pine stand. I took a different path than usual–around the edge of the woods as opposed to the path closest the lake–and I ended up in the northernmost section of the stand. I was exhausted, and I wanted nothing more than a mental and physical break. I put my headphones in and found a spot softened by needles to lay down.
I laid back and realized I had spent very little time looking at the canopy of the Loblolly stand. I had spent hours looking at the ground, the stumps, the trunks, the branches–but I had never looked up long enough to notice the constant movement of the entire stand.
I have frequently noted how the Loblolly behavior and environment differ dramatically from the rest of the surrounding forest. To a degree, I expected that going into this project. Of course a pine stand would differ from its deciduous surroundings. I did not expect the trees to move differently.
When most trees move it is gentle and expected. Oak and Beech branches sway in the wind and I could care less. It makes sense that their branches move while their weighty trunks don’t.
The Loblolly sway with a full bodiedness that seems nothing short of arrogant. They don’t have any branches until 30, 40, or even 60 feet up their trunks. Their brief crowns weigh heavy on their heads and pull them to and fro in a rhythm seemingly independent of the wind. It is a circular swaying, and each tree has an independent path that it traces emerald on blue against the sky. The Loblolly have significant structural differences than most other trees, pines included. Their tall, slender trunks bare of branches save for the last several meters afford them remarkable freedom of movement.
It is an admirable movement, and one that feels deeply independent. Movement is a part of what gives the Loblolly their character. I hope I can find that same freedom of movement again soon. When I look up, I feel like I can.