Saturday, November 21, 2015

A Walk in the Woods

Photo Credit: Eric Mann, PhD

I hate living in Sacramento. Every time a big truck drives on the freeway overpass, conveniently located right outside my bedroom window, I wake up from my deepest slumber, scream EARTHQUAKE and dive under my desk for cover, only to discover it is yet again a false alarm. This shit is getting old. I’m tired of almost being run over in the T and Stockton crosswalk every day on my way to school. I’m fed up with the poor air quality and the lack of parking. I can’t remember the last time I put my toes in the sand or climbed a mountain or saw how bright the stars can be. Do you?

Medical school doesn’t leave us much room to breathe. Try as we might, those deep breathing exercises they have us do in the lecture hall (which frankly make me look pregnant) just don’t compare to how deeply you would breathe in the air if you were by the ocean or on a hike somewhere beautiful.

That’s why, this break I am determined to get away from it all, rest and see some of this amazing planet we call home. I am told there is life outside the 4 blocks between Med Ed and 34th street and gosh darn it, I am going to find it.

I have never been good at quieting what Buddhists call the ‘monkey mind.’ Its been rather loud as of late and the frenzy of school and the urban landscape isn’t helping. So today, I packed up my Subaru, left my coffee cup in the sink and drove to Muir Woods.

Its the most beautiful lush old growth forest. I walk along a forgotten dirt path into a grove of trees, wet from the fog. The air is crisp and cold. The trees hold me in their shelter. The sky is cloudy and I can hear a noisy brook in the distance. I stand amongst the trees, breathing in the crisp air and crunching leaves beneath my feet.

I’m drawn to trees in a way I can’t quite explain. When I was little, my Dad brought me to work with him and I went around to every cubical and asked people to sign a piece of paper if they liked trees (ironic I admit). I guess Greenpeace is just in my bones. Plus I was freakin adorable.

Standing in a forest is almost like being in a crowd of people. There are babies—little saplings that can barely hold their leaves off the ground. Ostentatious ones with bright red leaves like a woman wearing a red dress. Birch, Oaks, Maples—all kinds, just like people. I find myself especially drawn to the old trees. The survivors. Battered and scared, bark peeling away. A little worse for wear, but still standing their ground—these trees have really known life.  

There is something magical about nature in general and the forest in particular. Perhaps it is my sheer joy to not be within the same quarter mile for once. Everything is so green, so full of life and possibility. Out here I am not alone, I am not lost—which is frankly more than can be said for when I’m at school.

Our lives as med students are like when you’re trying to cram too many sweatshirts into your dresser drawer. It just won’t close without lots of cursing and shoving and a jammed finger or two. There is so much stuff in such a tiny space; we get squeezed smaller and smaller until we gasp for air.

I hope you can use our time off to get out a little bit. You don’t have to go far. If you want to study a little bit, that’s okay. You do you. But make sure you temper your worry and your stress by spreading it out over a beautiful sunset. Un-furrow your brow on a beach at dusk. Get drunk on the rain drops that are supposed to fall this week. Only you can quite your monkey mind. Let it out of its cage, you’ll both feel better.

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