You can relax in the strangest places, even while suspended 40 feet above the forest floor.
Recently, Andrew and I were discussing how we needed to get back into yoga, not just because our bodies were feeling creaky, but also because of the relaxation that comes with being in touch with your body. Alas, with work, Charlotte and volunteer commitments, neither of us has had much relaxation lately.
But on one a busy day last week, I had a pleasant surprise. It was already a busy day, capped off by this month’s edition of my “try something new” club. I’ve mentioned this group before; a member picks a new activity every month for the whole group to attempt.
The activity was literally off the beaten path: The eight of us headed to Boler Mountain to try out its Treetop Adventure Park, to navigate bridges, ladders and zip lines suspended in trees. It’s not completely crazy: Participants are secured to cables by an idiot-proof belay system and wearing safety harnesses and helmets the entire time.
This safety gear was practically identical to what I wore when I climbed our town’s water tower a few years ago, and I survived that (self-imposed, ridiculous) experience. But I’m a little older now, with a child and fewer opportunities to test my “mind over matter” skills, save dealing with an occasionally belligerent toddler.
My friend Esther faced her fear of heights head-on and climbed to the course first. I was third, and after getting my bearings, it was easy to fall into a rhythm of attach-step-detach-step-attach to plod my way through. The obstacles weren’t physically difficult, but they did require paying attention to your body (like yoga). One heavy footstep could send a bridge swinging madly — and you as well. “Step lightly” was the adage of the evening.
It was a beautiful evening; we were the only group on the course, and the cool weather meant we could dress warmly without breaking a sweat. Despite being surrounded by London, Boler Mountain is impressively quiet. Only bird calls and rustling leaves accompanied us… at least until we made it to the zip line at the end of the course, when we hooted with glee as we each flew across the cable.
A few of us, including the increasingly brave Esther, continued to the intermediate course, while the others opted for the instant gratification of the zip line course. I shimmied up the ladder first; perhaps it was the increased distance from the ground, or the fact that fewer of us were in the immediate area, but I think I fell into some kind of altered state. I progressed through the obstacles quickly, and soon realized I was alone in the trees (save the guides far below).
Even though I was balancing on a tightrope, my body felt relaxed yet nimble, and I surveyed my surroundings with interest. How often do adults get the chance to enjoy silence and solitude, let alone in the treetops? If my harness had been longer, I would have sat down and tried to bottle the feeling — but I at least have the moment to recall when I need peace in everyday life.
Maybe you have to be a bit nutty to try the course in the first place. If you like your nuts more grounded, here’s a hearty fall bread to try instead.
Savoury Olive Oil Bread
1/2 cup hazelnuts
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp. unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tbsp. baking powder
1 tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
1/2 tsp. fennel seeds, crushed
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup milk
2 tsp. orange zest
3/4 cup dried figs, stemmed and chopped
Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Place hazelnuts on a baking sheet and toast for 20-35 minutes, until lightly browned. Remove from the oven and pour onto a clean dishtowel. Fold over the dishtowel and rub the hazelnuts to loosen and remove the skins. Cool completely.
Place skinned hazelnuts in a plastic bag and roll over them with a rolling pin, just to break the nuts in half. Set aside. Turn oven up to 400 degrees. Grease an eight-inch loaf pan. Line with parchment, grease parchment, and dust lightly with flour.
Sift together flours, baking powder, sugar, salt and pepper. Add fennel seeds.
In a large bowl, whisk eggs until frothy. Whisk in olive oil and milk. Add zest. Whisk in the flour mixture and beat just until incorporated. Fold in hazelnuts and figs.
Scrape the batter into pan. Bake 40-45 minutes, until golden and a tester comes out clean. Remove from the oven and turn out onto a rack. Remove parchment after five minutes and cool completely.