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A Walk in the Woods in the Dark

I recently went on a trip to a nature conservancy with the Canadian Wildlife Foundation. We were scheduled to have a campfire that night during which I had one of the most surreal experiences of my life. It began when our guide stopped us during our idle stroll to the campfire site.

“When I was little,” she said, “my dad used to take me for walks in the woods at night. The only catch was, we were not allowed to speak with one another, but instead we would just listen to the woods. It was an incredible experience and I’d like all of you to try it.”

She specified the rules. We were going to line up one by one and take a walk alone in the woods. During this walk, no one was allowed to speak with people in front or behind them. We would follow the trail and meet the guides at the campfire. One by one, the students lined up behind each other to take the walk. No one spoke a word as each person disappeared into the trail with their back illuminated by lamps. There was a particular solemness in the air as if we were participants in an ancient and sacred ritual.

Immediately after the conversation stopped, I suddenly became aware of  many sounds that were initially drowned out by conversation, especially the rustling of the leaves against each other. I became hypersensitive to my surroundings. I looked up and saw that dusk completely settled itself over the sky; trees formed dark silhouettes framing the side of my view, exposing only a small patch of dark blue in the center. When it was my turn to walk, I could hear the sound of my shoes crunching the gravel, see the glimmers of light that danced on the black rippled lake and smell the fresh scent of falling leaves. Despite the two-hour bus ride and group activities I had earlier in the day, I felt refreshed and rejuvenated.

I was one of the last people to arrive at the campfire. Instead of talking and singing, everyone was staring silently into the fire.

“How did that make you feel?” asked our guide.

“Therapeutic” was one of the first words uttered. The sentiment was echoed through the crowd.

“Exactly,” said the guide, “many people associate a walk in the woods at night with fear or danger, but it actually feels the complete opposite. It is calming to reconnect ourselves to nature. It is actually customary in certain first nation cultures for people to self-reflect in nature at night.”

With that, the group returned to a silence and our experience that night was completely altered by the walk. I couldn’t stop thinking about the walk and how calming it felt even after returning from the trip. After some research, I found that ecotherapy leads to improvement in levels of depression, as demonstrated by a study conducted by the University of Essex. The treatment was found to lead to improvement in mood in patients. Through this experience, I have gained a newfound appreciation for ecotherapy. It is a wonderful feeling to reconnect ourselves to nature.

(Written by Eva Liu / Image Source)

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