Finding Zen at the Nags Head Woods
“If you can spend a perfectly useless afternoon in a perfectly useless manner, you havelearned how to live.” Lin YutangIt is difficult to consider any time spent in nature as “useless,” but from the point of viewof a culture overrun with to-do lists and daily schedules, an afternoon spent hiking andrelaxing in the woods may appear that way. Actually, a lot of activities found on theOuter Banks may seem “useless” from this perspective, but this is a world-class vacationdestination after all, and we owe it to ourselves to slow down and enjoy as many“useless” days and “useless” experiences as possible.With a little exploration off the beaten path, the Outer Banks offers endless opportunitiesto discover new experiences to help waste away the hours of the day. Nags Head Woodsoffers a great opportunity to escape the hustle and bustle of everyday life, and even thehustle and bustle of the beach. A maritime forest seems to defy nature; the Outer Banksis only a few miles wide with water on both sides, yet a 1,400 acre maritime forest thrivesin such an unlikely location.On a warm, sunny, late-August afternoon, I found myself wandering aimlessly throughthe vast Woods. I picked that random afternoon to slow the pace of my everyday life andtry to capture some of the beauty of late summer on the Outer Banks. My afternoon journey led me to a remote area of the island that would be difficult to find if you didn’tknow where you were headed (see directions below).As I stepped from my car and began to meander through the Woods, I was immediatelygreeted by the type of silence only nature can offer…the buzzing of insects, the chirp of songbirds, and the trickle of water running through streams. The air was warm, but the breeze was cool, and the towering trees provided a blanket of shade that blocked the hotafternoon sun. I chose a trail at random and headed on my way. Nags Head Woodsoffers a variety of trails and endless nooks and crannies to escape for a relaxing rest or quiet contemplation. I allowed my mind to slow and gathered my thoughts, and I took time to watch and enjoy the natural environment bursting with life around me. Anafternoon spent with nature can help keep life in perspective.When I rounded a bend at the end of one of the trails and found myself facing the NatureConservancy building, it dawned on me that not only is Nags Head Woods an amazingarea to help you get back to nature and unwind, but it is also incredibly important from anecological perspective. My mission morphed from a purely Zen related retreat to includethe larger perspective of a Zen retreat with an abundance of educational andenvironmental importance. I gathered all of the information I could and set out to informmyself about the unique qualities of this rare environment. It turns out that Nags HeadWoods is vastly important to the local ecosystem, and it is one of the few remaining areasof its kind.The site stretches more than three miles along the western side of Bodie Island adjacentto some of the Outer Banks’ most intense residential and commercial development.