listening time: 6:29 minutes
Asha and I have returned from our morning walk. She snoozes in a patch of November sunshine on my studio floor while I journal at my desk, a cup of tea close at hand.
“Asha and I headed up the logging road,” I begin.
Why “headed”? I wonder. Why not “hearted”?
I don’t know why this verb jumps out at me today, when I’ve used it so often. But the question intrigues me. Why isn’t “heart” a verb (and I don’t mean “I heart chocolate chip cookies” or clicking on a heart-shaped symbol in response to a social media post)?
Does “hearted” more accurately describe my experience in the woods? How does this verb change my experience?
I start again and write, “Asha and I hearted into the woods this morning.”
I hear the truth in this statement. My heart chose our route today – a desire for moving water took us to a favorite place where two streams converge.
Head and heart. A difference of a few letters, yet so much more.
I pull the American Heritage Dictionary off the shelf and become absorbed in definitions, idioms and compound words. I’m off and running with more questions:
What if we hearted an organization, business or committee? How would that change our ideas of leadership?
What would heartquarters look like?
What if businesses hired hearthunters to find new employees?
What if we put our hearts together to consult and plan? Or made heartstrong decisions?
Would a heartcount encourage us to show up differently?
Why don’t we learn our multiplication tables by head?
These questions are both playful and serious.
They shift the focus from the exposed head at the top of the body down to the more enclosed, protected space of the heart. From what the dictionary calls “the seat of the faculty of reason; intelligence, intellect, or mind” to “the vital center and source of one’s being, emotions and sensibilities.”
They invite a reimagining of ideas and possibilities.
I imagine heartquarters as a vibrant place where all hearts come alive, have room to live and grow, have respected voices that are listened to. A welcoming place that strives for equity, giving each heart what is needed to thrive. A place focused on connection and nourishment where anyone can show up in fullness, as their beautiful, messy selves, without judgment or constraints. A place where heartstrong decisions – decisions that both strengthen the heart and come from a strong place in the heart – are not only possible but encouraged.
As I explore the qualities of heartquarters, I notice they are shaped by what the woods give me as I walk in their embrace. I know I’m privileged to have this experience. For many, woods – and city parks, national parks and other outdoor spaces – aren’t geographically or physically accessible. Others don’t feel safe on account of their gender, their gender expression or the color of their skin.
In an essay on the perils of hiking while Black, Major Jackson writes, “The sad reality is, unlike my fellow trail walkers or bikers or kayakers, I never fully enjoy nature outings because of the persistent fact of the precariousness of Black life and the thoughts of what potential harm might befall owed to the color of my skin.” His words are echoed by others and exemplify how, to quote Carolyn Finney, “systemic racism exists on both the streets of our cities and inside our national parks.”
Adding accessibility and safety to the qualities of heartquarters makes me realize that heartquarters don’t have to be physical spaces. They could be a circle of friends to whom you turn for honesty and support. Or an activity, a creative pursuit that you engage in when you need to hear your heart. And it’s possible – perhaps likely – to have more than one heartquarters.
I return to my revised sentence, “Asha and I hearted into the woods this morning.”
Not only is this a true statement, it is also a richer description that places my heart at the center of my walks.
I often become absorbed in the sights, sounds, smells, sensations and forget to put words to my heart’s experience. But when I use heart as a verb, I inhabit both my body and my time in the woods more fully. I choose both sensory and emotional words to describe my walk.
I notice the November light that fills the spaces emptied by hardwood leaves and I marvel at the way the light sparkles.
I listen to the burbling streams and feel renewed and strengthened by those sounds.
I survey the fallen spruce trees and mourn for them.
I feel the unseasonably warm temperatures and grieve for our Earth in crisis.
As I give voice to my heart’s experience, I hear something more: the woods have hearted into me.
You can find the articles referenced in this story online.
Major Jackson, Surroundings more congenial: The perils of hiking while Black
Carolyn Finney, The perils of being Black in public: We are all Christian Cooper and George Floyd