“And in the wood, where often you and I
Upon faint primrose-beds were wont to lie,
Emptying our bosoms of their counsel sweet,
There my Lysander and myself shall meet;
And thence from Athens turn away our eyes,
To seek new friends and stranger companies.”
A Secret Passage
When you first drive by many parts of the Mountains to Sea Trail (MST), they are invisible. When I enter the forest, I realize how the woods offer us opportunities for what Shakespeare called “new friends and stranger companies,” as seen in his play A Midsummer Night’s Dream. When I enter the company of the forest, I am both refreshed by a time apart from the company of others and all the more grateful for it.
Removing myself from the spaces of civilization, in the Enchanted Forest section walking from north to south, I experienced a temporary freedom from social engagement. The forest, invisible from the road, formed an enclosure around me, and made the open expanses of land more spectacular by contrast.
And I developed a connection with many of the plants. Some remained green and small, like ferns or moss; larger rhododendrons and azaleas still had leaves, and other bushes and trees were hibernating with bare branches.
In this way, I gained an appreciation for human beings by taking time away from them, and appreciating the company of other living organisms.
Such freedom from hearing from, talking to and seeing other people actually gave me time to gain perspective on relationships. It encouraged new discovery, not only about species living in the forest, but also about myself and others back in human territory.
The Enchanted Healing Terrain
What makes nature so enchanting for those of us who love to hike? Many aspects of walking on forested trails have enchanted humans for ages:
- Breathing fresh air that flows in unrestricted currents.
- Direct contact with weather conditions, either moist or dry, cool or warm, still or windy. This may result in easier balancing of diet and activities for wellness purposes in the face of seasonal changes.
- Sounds, including birds, other animals, leaves, branches, and small rocks falling or blowing in the wind, and moving water.
- Opportunities for observation and imaginative creativity.
- Escape from manmade environments, including highways and cars
- Chances to gain perspective on and distance from people and events in our lives.
As Sarah Wilson states, “Psychologists call it the “wilderness effect” and a number of studies show that green exercise “improves wellbeing and moves us to deep, satisfying realizations that re-set thinking.”
As I walked south along the Blue Ridge Parkway (BRP) into the enchanted forest, the path followed the ridge line several yards away and downhill from the road. It crossed a small creek and then headed uphill, switching directions several times in a zig-zag pattern. The woods formed a barrier between the trail and the road, so part of the enchantment of this place could be heard in the quiet rustle of the leaves and rushing water.
After reaching the summit of a high hill, the trail headed downward for a nice, easy walk before opening up to the BRP again. As I approached the clearing at the bottom of the hill, I could see through the trees a sudden, exciting view of rolling hills with cow pastures on the west side of the road. In the late afternoon or evening with the sky at least partly clear, this spot really lights up the end of the trail with a lovely view of the setting sun.
Sharing One’s Driveway
At the private driveway just north of the enchanted forest section (the 3rd wooded trail north of Boone Trace Overlook), there is enough space for my car in front of a small, chained gate. That gate blocks an old, unpaved service road, which veers to the right from the paved driveway (a small space also sits to the left of the driveway, with logs delineating the boundary). Of course, it is best not to intrude any further down the driveway than these parking spots.
Leaving my car in that spot for the first time, I knew that the generosity of the driveway’s owners added to my sense of mystery. This entryway also required no walking along the side of the highway. From other walks, I had already quickly learned that walking on the grassy side of the road where cars passed didn’t feel much like hiking.
Finding the Location
In many places, the MST weaves back and forth over concrete road, to the east and west sides of the BRP as it heads in a northeasterly direction from Asheville, NC. The organization known as Friends of the Mountains to Sea Trail (FMST) has on their website a trail guide to this region’s section of the trail. The enchanted forest sits in a portion of the MST known as Segment 5, The High Country, and runs from mile 34.4 at the south end to 35.3 at the north end.
Just north of the Boone Trace overlook on the BRP, you will find one entrance to the MST that goes into the woods on the east (right) side of the road, and then one similar entrance on the west (left) side of the road, and then another one on the east (right) side. The third one is at the south end of “the enchanted forest,” where the sunset view that I mentioned is visible at the right time of day.
All in all, the existence of a wooded trail between residences and just a couple of minutes from the center allows for an easy escape from the world of humans. As in Shakespeare’s play, the forest is a place where transformations take place that solve human problems. Living becomes more pleasant and much less stressful for visitors as well as those who live nearby. If you enjoy these short excursions, including the one through the enchanted forest, you will have made excellent use of one of the Art of Living Retreat Center’s richest local and regional opportunities.
I’d like to share an opportunity to enjoy the majestic views of the mountains from home too. Check out our series of Blue Ridge Mountain wallpapers, which you can download for your desktop — so that even when you’re on the computer, the memory of a breath of fresh air can add space and perspective to your day.
Interested in learning more about programs at the Art of Living Retreat Center? Check out our annual catalog here.