Musings On A Hike

I abandoned my household chores yesterday in favor of a stroll at Lake Katherine State Nature Preserve.

I hiked the Salt Creek Trail and a short section of another trail. Starting down the path to the Salt Creek trail makes you feel like you’re about to do something truly special. I always have the sensation that I’m walking into a storybook.

It starts out wide, gradually becoming a bit more narrow as you begin a gradual descent. It’s still wide enough to walk beside someone but the trees appear to be leaning in to see who is coming down the path.

Then a sharp turn sends you further down where you glimpse a concourse of these incredible boulders on which hemlock grow.

In this spot, you will have the feeling that you are the first to discover it and the only one to hold the secret of its mystique. It feels like a place where you might encounter elves or trolls or maybe a centaur.

This time of year, leaves release their grasp on the limbs overhead, floating down to return to the earth from which they came.

If you are paying attention at all, as you reluctantly leave this spot, you will turn and look back. I promise.

Down, down, down you will go, enjoying a slight decrease in the temperature while catching glimpses of Salt Creek along the way.

You’ll follow a rock face and, in one particularly spectacular place, go under an outcropping of rock. The leaves fell in earnest here yesterday. I saw a butterfly here, heard the insistent buzz of a bee, listened to a distant woodpecker, and enjoyed the cry of a far off train whistle. If I have to hear civilization in nature, the mighty whistle of a train is pretty nice.

I always marvel at how nature bends to the will of its surroundings and you’ll see a lot of that along this trail. Trees grow from meager patches of soil on a rock, not as strong as some of the neighbors but, with a will to live that cannot be denied. Others will grow in ample earth in the shadow of that same rock, leaning to follow the contours of the stone while reaching skyward.

Others will stand alone in a place with no cover, growing increasingly twisted and gnarled by the wind. But they’re still trying and I admire that about them.

It is on a short spur off this trail that you will arrive at a flood plain filled with Paw Paw, Maple and Sycamore trees.

In this space, you will begin to feel very small – in the best possible way.

When you find a place in nature that makes you feel small, you will realize that your life and problems, your joys and mere existence in this grandly designed Universe are minuscule.

If you have never experienced this, I suggest you stop reading now and go find a place like Lake Katherine. You need to know what it is to be both alone and accompanied, at the same time, through the wilderness we call life.

Remember Michelangelo’s painting The Creation of Adam?

This is nature’s rendition.

It looks like they are reaching toward each other. Can you see it? You won’t find this kind of amazement in any manmade place.

Remember, a hike isn’t a footrace. Get the exercise, enjoy your quickened pulse but stop and look around – look up, down and behind you. There are untold joys and blessings to be found along the journey.

Old Scenes, Fresh Joy

I live in the country but still get excited seeing cows or horses in a pasture and chipmunks in trees. I had to stop several times for deer while on a drive the other day. I was grateful to not hit them and thrilled to have such a close view of them.

That’s probably weird.

The good news is that a scene like this brings me unmeasurable joy.

What makes you happy?

Nature Doesn’t Care

The human world is in chaos as Covid 19 continues reaching into areas of life that most of us never dreamed would be so heavily impacted. You never know what new challenge lurks around the next corner. At least that’s how it feels.

Maybe that’s why I’m so drawn to nature. The natural world isn’t familiar with Covid and doesn’t care that this virus is inconveniencing you and me.

In fact, Nature continues to operate as she always has. The sun continues to rise and set at the appointed times every day. The beautiful water lilies at my local state park are still blooming.

Clouds drift by on a hot summer day because that’s what clouds do. Their reflection in the lake reminds me of glass.

And dragonflies still flit across the water, enticing hikers to stop and stare.

Mushrooms continue to grow in unusual shapes and colors despite the presence of a nasty little virus in our world.

Trees still provide shade and shelter for birds and other small creatures.

Some even are starting to remind us that there is rhythm and reason to the seasons. Nature will soon work her magic and transform our landscape into a wonderland of red, gold, brown and orange leaves. They will rain down upon us, giving new life to the forest floor.

If we listen, we will learn that the natural world is exactly as it should be despite the challenges that come with priorities humans have imposed on themselves.

Go for a walk if you can. Better yet, submerge yourself in the forest and breathe deeply. Allow Nature to show you what’s good about the world and maybe the rest of what you are living with right now won’t seem so bad.

Don’t Let Fear Slow You Down

I encountered a group from Maryland on last night’s hike. They were extremely friendly and thrilled to be hiking in the Hocking Hills.

For some, it was their first time on a hike. A few seemed to marvel that I was out there alone. This isn’t an uncommon reaction.

I hike alone a lot.

This is partly because there is nothing like the serenity of the woods and having people around is disruptive. It’s partly because I refuse to miss out on experiences simply because there is no one to go with.

This wasn’t always the case. I didn’t pick up solo hiking until last winter. My relationship of many years had just ended. I was working on accepting the idea that it will likely always be just me and I refuse to spend my life at home simply because I’m single.

So I started hiking in the well trafficked areas of local state parks until becoming comfortable enough to venture out on longer hikes where there are fewer people.

It was intimidating to put it mildly. But once I got used to the uneasiness, it became an experience that I crave.

I breathe better in the woods and despise having a lot of people around when trying to enjoy my surroundings.

Those visitors yesterday marveled at my bravery. I didn’t have the heart to tell them I feel safer by myself in the woods than walking down the street in a city like their hometown. People are nuts and scare me far more than wildlife.

But I’m not stupid. I’m always prepared for something bad to happen and grateful each time I make it out safely. Of course, after the spike in crime in the town with my favorite TJ Maxx, I feel the same sense of relief every time I leave there without incident too.

The bottom line is that you can’t let fear prevent you from living. Know the threats and prepare to avoid or face them the best you can. But you still have to live and enjoy life.

And I’m not just talking about hiking.

Wherever you are right now, you’re probably letting fear hold you back in some way. Fear could even be running your life or preventing you from doing what’s best for you.

It’s ok to be afraid. It is not ok to let fear prevent you from living the life you want and deserve.

Go for the hike. Take the leap, whatever it may be.

You may be surprised at how good it feels.