Walk-About, Seeing Wide

Zach Fisher during our working lunch on our Walk-about.  We ate while making string from Dogbane.

It’s hard to know where to begin.  I’m still going over in my head all I learned on my Walk-about with Zack Fisher.  Every time I think I’ve processed it all, something else pops into my head about the day.

I know what Jon would say if I told him I don’t know how to begin writing about it.  He’d tell me to start at the beginning.

So that’s what I’ll do…

I made the quick turns through the suburbs of the Upstate New York town till I came to a dead-end and the trailhead.  It was not the deep woods, but a preserve with a variety of terrains, woods, river, hills, and lowlands. It was Zach’s first time there too. He chose it because it was halfway between where each of us lived and for its natural diversity.

We were the only people there so it was easy to find each other.

Even before we stepped off the pavement,  Zach looked around at the plants growing along the side of the street and said we could spend hours right where we were.  I saw familiar weeds that I pull from my garden, but he saw food and medicine.


Mugwort was so familiar to me that I was never even curious enough to look up its name.   But I ended up bringing a handful of it home as a reminder not to be so quick to judge what I don’t know.   Mugwort can be used as a ceremonial replacement for white sage.  When dried and bundled it will smolder when burned.  

Zach was especially excited about the large patch of stinging nettles. Not only can they be dried and made into tea, but they can also be sauteed and eaten like spinach.  They’re good with a little soy sauce and lemon.  I know because we harvested some and I had them for dinner that night.

And Orange Jewel Weed, with the pale watery stem that pulls up from the ground so easily it’s almost fun, can be mashed up and used to alleviate the sting of those delicious nettles or the itch of poison ivy and bug bites.

Orange Jewelweed and Poison ivy in front of it.

I immediately felt comfortable with Zach who I had only talked to on the phone before. His enthusiasm, knowledge and apparent love of the natural world and of teaching were infectious and settling.

Next, we addressed my poor sense of direction.

Zack picked up a small stick from the ground and stuck it in the dirt on the side of the street. A shadow a couple of inches long fell to the left of the stick.  He placed an acorn at the tip of the shadow.  “If we were to come back at 2 pm,” he said, “the shadow would be just about here.” And he placed a pebble at the tip of where the shadow from the stick would be.  Then he placed another small stick between the two points making a straight line.

That’s the west to east line.  Another stick crossing that line between the two points gives the north-south direction of the compass rose.  Because we’re in the northern hemisphere, the shadow will be cast on the north side of the stick as it travels from east to west.

I’m still not sure if I explained that exactly right, I had a hard time understanding it until I did a little drawing of it.  I could have taken a picture, but I knew if I drew it, I’d remember it even if I couldn’t explain it.

My compass rose drawing

As soon as we stepped onto the trail, I left the houses and small neighborhood streets behind.  The sun could barely reach through the tall thick canopy.   Shady and green are what I see when I think of it.  We walked downhill towards a footbridge over a wide, low, sandy stream that emptied into the river on our right.

Zack talked about a way of seeing when walking in the woods.  He called it seeing wide.

You don’t just focus on what’s in front of you, you look ahead and use your peripheral vision at the same time. This way you can catch the movement of animals in the woods.  An owl high in a tree,  a bird flitting from branch to branch, a squirrel or fox running on the ground.

I thought about how few animals I see when I walk in the woods and wondered how many were there that I just didn’t see.

“Awareness is a human superpower,” he said.

Being present, paying attention, getting out of my own head and actually seeing what’s going on around me.  Making landmarks, a grapevine curled in an unusual shape, a tree pocked with woodpecker holes or a rock formation that mimics steps, something to remind me of where I’ve been.

We walked that way for a while, me practicing seeing wide.  Then Zack stopped at a pile of pine branches on the side of the trial.  That’s when he took his knife out of the handmade wicker basket on his back and began peeling a section of bark off one of the branches.

It would eventually become a little pine bark vessel and the first of many things we’d create in the six hours we spent in the woods.

But I’ll save that story for the next blog post.

You can see more about Zach and the programs he teaches on his website Vulpes Wild Arts.  Just click here.

9 thoughts on “Walk-About, Seeing Wide

  1. Make sure Jon gets that medicine. Maybe his missing you is what made him sick. ??
    He loves you so much he could be a cry baby when you’re gone.

  2. Was looking forward to this. Yes poison ivy and jewelweed growing close to each other. Mugwort, my nemesis and friend. Seeing wide in the woods as well as life. So much to know and feel.

  3. Sharon again, I am sitting here thinking and feeling about seeing wide and how that relates to so many things. I do a lot of detail work with a narrow focus, needed to get certain things done, but I lose the bigger picture. Whew, breathing deep on this one, thank you Maria and Zach.

  4. wow ‘seeing wide’ – can’t thank you enough for sharing this. I had 2 dogs – In January I had to put my 16 year old down & then in February had to put down my 18 1/2 year old. In March I got a new dog who is a year old but was heartworm positive & had to keep her crated or close to it for the first two month I had her. Between having older dogs & a new dog who I couldn’t walk. I didn’t realize how much I missed walking with a dog. The last few weeks we have been able to return to long walks & I have felt anxious for some reason. I am so glad for you to give me this new intention I can focus on as me & my new dog start exploring trails I haven’t been on in years because my older dogs just couldn’t walk that far. In fact as I write this my new dog Prana (Sanskrit for breathe/life force) is at my feet snoring, exhausted from our long walk today.

    thanks for being so open with your life Maria!!

    1. That’s a lot of big changes Kim. But it also sounds like your new dog will bring you new places literally and figuratively. Prana is the perfect name for a dog who will help you to “see wide”.

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