There are people who, if dropped in the middle of the woods, would see nothing but the glory of the forest, the colors in the foliage, and the beauty of the ground beneath their feet.
I’m not one of those people.
Drop me off in the woods, and my first instinct would be to chase your car as you leave. Then I might fall on my knees asking what I had done to deserve this torture.
Cheryl Strayed I am not.
But as is often the case with things I thought were better off avoided (scrambled eggs, classes at the gym, winter activities…), rethinking my old ways led to an epiphany.
I have Christian Martin to thank for it. When I pulled into North Cascades National Park with the family in a rented RV last fall to do some research for a story I was writing, I would’ve been content to wander around the Environmental Learning Center, where Martin worked, and opine about how beautiful the drive was. But he wasn’t having it.
The place we were in was “special,” Martin said. And we needed to hike it to understand.
And so it was that I, out of feelings of guilt and obligation, set out to hike Thunder Creek Trail.
I didn’t hear any objection from my sons. After all, mud puddles and slippery leaves are the things kids love best. The two of them bounded forward with their dad as I, in full mother mode, cautiously called out “Watch your step! Slow down! Be careful!” from the rear.
But with each step, my admonitions lost their force. The rest of my family was completely happy in the wild. Something in each of them relaxed and embraced the open space. Maybe, just maybe, that was how it was supposed to be.
In the Pacific Northwest there isn’t much to dislike. Towering trees, winding roads, and a “crunchy granola” culture lend themselves to positive feelings.
The last of my reservations gave way once I heard them start to sing. These boys—who are brothers and sometime best friends and cruel button-pushing nemeses—were singing together.
The fact that belting out Imagine Dragons’s “Radioactive” like no one was watching would frighten off wayward bears wasn’t lost on us adults, and soon even we were singing along.
Something about the act relaxed me. As we sung, our pace slowed; hands were grasped. The smallest sounds warranted a stop for further investigation. As we made our way, I suddenly understood what all the fuss was about concerning a walk in the woods.
Often the one thing that we can’t slow, even while we’re on vacation, is time. We’re running even when we’re hitting waterslides or touring museums. We are programmed to finish one thing and start preparing for the next.
Not in the forest.
Here there were pauses to throw stones in the river, pause for selfies on the bridge, point out a pretty flower or mossy trunk.
Looking back I think it was the open-endedness of the path ahead that had put me off hiking in the past—the idea that there was no purpose to an endeavor other than to savor it.
Now it occurs to me that in a world marked by destinations, being on a path without one is a novel experience, and one to revel in.
I’m looking forward to the hikes down the road and hope we learn to step off the path, even if it is only one tentative step at a time.
Heather Greenwood Davis, husband Ish, and sons Ethan and Cameron were recognized as Travelers of the Year by Traveler magazine in 2012. Watch highlights of their adventures on globetrottingmama.com. Follow Heather on Twitter @GreenwoodDavis.