Op/Ed

Jessie Raymond: A tumble answered one question

People who don’t know how to make normal conversation like to pose annoying “thought experiments.” Their favorite: If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?
We’ll never know, or care about, the answer. But it’s been on my mind lately, because I’ve been spending a lot of time around trees and forests.
While I’m recovering from a shoulder injury, about all I can do without limits is walk. So I’ve been walking with a vengeance.
A week ago Monday, while taking the dog on our customary morning loop through the woods on the Trail Around Middlebury, I came to a well-groomed, gravel-strewn section of the trail. Seriously, it’s wide and smooth enough to pull a wheeled suitcase on (although I’m thinking of switching to a backpack).
I was, as always, keeping up a brisk pace. While I’m not a runner, I walk aggressively — everywhere. If you’ve ever been sideswiped by my cart at the supermarket, you know that I have a compulsion to attempt land-speed records on foot. As I always say, “There’s nothing worth doing that isn’t worth doing faster.”
So it was that I was zipping along the trail, dog at my side, possibly contemplating falling tree noises (or silence) but more likely thinking about the to-do list waiting for me at home. Suddenly, on that otherwise even patch of ground, my toe caught on a small stump sticking an inch or two out of the ground.
I’ve walked this section of trail hundreds of times. I know about the little stump. My brain had just assumed that, for the moment, my feet could do their job without supervision.
My brain had been mistaken.
My first thought, as calamity struck, was “This isn’t good.” My torso continued to head for home while my feet had gotten off at the last exit. I probably should have tried to bring myself to the ground as safely as possible. Drop and roll, maybe.
But my brain, fully prepared to go 0 for 2, had a different plan: It decided I should try to get my feet to catch up to my body. So I began to sprint. As I was falling.
Bad call.
The faster my feet yabba-dabba-doo’d, the farther forward my body pitched. I was actually accelerating as the ground rushed toward me.
For some reason, I stretched out as I fell, like a baseball player diving for home plate (assuming he was holding a leash in his left hand and an iPhone in his right and valued them more than his elbows).
By the time I slammed into the gravel, driving my forearms hard into the ground, I was going about 20 miles an hour over the speed limit. I skidded on my stomach for a few feet before coming to a stop and murmuring something appropriate to the situation, like “Ow.”
I immediately hopped up as if nothing had happened.
But my brain — making its first sensible decision in several minutes — quickly reconsidered, and I crumpled to a cross-legged position in the middle of the trail while the trees wheeled overhead.
“I was right. That was bad,” I whispered to the dog, who hadn’t noticed.
After a few moments of pain-induced wooziness, I checked for injuries.
To my horror, my forearms looked like I had been pounding nails with them. Blood oozed from my mangled flesh and trickled off my elbows. The trees wheeled some more.
Given my only other option — standing up and passing out — I decided to stay seated.
I was too embarrassed to call my husband and ask him to come get me. And the dog, despite all I’d done for him over the years, declined to run home and get help. But I couldn’t safely move yet. So I sat on the ground and bled on nature some more.
Eventually, the dizziness passed. Groaning, I slowly stood up and walked, without any vengeance at all, out of the woods.
A week later, I’m still sporting an array of scabs, a few patches of golden-purple bruises and, most painful of all, the humiliation of having felt so helpless out in the woods.
But at least we can now put to rest a lesser-known thought experiment: If a small-town humor columnist falls in the forest and no one is around to hear her, does she make a sound?
Yes. Definitely yes.

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