I used to be a hiker. In my 20’s, rarely a weekend went by that I didn’t drive out to one of Wisconsin’s beautiful state parks. I often joked that my summer entertainment budget was the $30 park sticker – and I milked it for every penny.
It has been over a decade since I’ve had a park sticker on my car.
Why did I stop? Maybe it was the horseback riding which started to take up more of my free time, maybe it was the job that required so many weekends, maybe it was all the stuff that I’ve let myself believe is important to a “normal” life.
Today I woke up to a beautiful August morning and immediately decided to go for a hike. After riding my horse, I changed gear and headed up to a trail I know well, even though it has been years since my last visit.
Walking through the tall grasses and wildflowers, I wondered why I ever stopped doing this. I love the sounds of the forest, the smell of clover, the way dappled sunlight feels on your face and pine needles feel under your shoes.
I took the longest circuit because it had always been my favorite and it didn’t disappoint. Butterflies danced around me in the sunny meadows and in the shade, new grass grew electric green and tender.
I had become so intoxicated on the sound of the breeze through a grove of poplar leaves that I was caught completely unprepared when my right ankle gave out and I tumbled down a steep gravel incline.
I got up gingerly and assessed the damage. The ankle that had twisted hurt, but it would hold. No real damage there. My left knee and shin were scraped and bleeding, stinging but not worrisome. But my left knee… I didn’t know joints could swell up that fast. I took a few steps, and determined that it, too, was functioning, if not particularly comfortably.
With my intimate knowledge of this trail, I knew that I was pretty much at the farthest point in the loop. I either had three miles of some hills and some flat or two miles of continuous hills ahead of me. Or, I could retrace the three miles of mixed terrain I’d already done.
I decided to keep moving forward. Pouring some water over my scrapes and taking a swig for courage, I headed off at a cautious pace.
The assorted pains had my attention for the next half mile or so: the left knee wobbling and popping, the skin of my left leg protesting its shredded state and the bits of gravel embedded in it, my right ankle sheepishly aware that it had caused this whole mess, but wanting to point out that IT kind of hurt too.
But finally I remembered where I was and stopped listening to my joints and started listening again to the forest. I went slowly and ultimately cut across to an easier trail that shaved more than a mile off the rest of my hike. Ironically, it was one I’d never taken before and suddenly this hike down memory lane became something new.
As I slowly walked the last half mile or so, I realized what HADN’T been going through my head …
- I wasn’t berating myself for falling.
- I wasn’t worried about what was coming up. I took each incline and decline one step at a time, resting when I needed to.
- I didn’t make this stumble a metaphor for everything else hurtful in my life.
- I wasn’t upset. The fall changed my hike, but didn’t ruin it.
Instead, I simply stayed in the moment, paying attention to what I saw and heard and smelled and felt, but not getting attached to any of it. I stopped taking pictures and chose to just be.
After washing my leg more thoroughly at the ranger station and climbing back in to my car, I flipped through the photos I’d taken during the first half of the hike. Maybe I’d use them for a blog? But…in the end, what would there be to say?
Turns out, there is no point, except that this walk in the woods reminded me to simply be. Be with the butterflies and the bumblebees and the bumps and the bruises and face it all with acceptance and equanimity. No matter what happens, no matter how it exceeds or fails to live up to my expectations, I can choose to be happy.
I limped back to the ranger station and upgraded my day pass to a year pass. I can’t wait to put that sticker on my car and milk it for every penny.
PS. But since I’d already taken the pictures…
All photos taken by me with an iPhone. No filters. No retouching