Yesterday, I went for a metaphor. That is, I took a hike. I tossed out my To-Do list and drove over to Pack Monadnock near Peterborough, NH. It was a beautiful, sunny, hot late summer day. The chatty ranger suggested an easy trail to the top, only about “one and a half miles”. So I put on my hiking boots, grabbed our ever-ready Go Bag (packed with all sorts of needful things like spare laces, bug repellant, sun block, emergency toilet paper, trash bag, lip balm and etceteras) and started out.
Here are the things that I realized in the first fifteen minutes.
1) I had forgotten the hollow thump of hiking boots hitting deep packed soil in a forest.
2) The scent of warm fir trees in the summer sun is intoxicating.
3) My left ankle never recovered entirely from being sprained three times.
4) The smell of Deep Woods Off is the scent of despair.
5) I always question my sanity during Minutes 7 through 15.
There is something about the beginning of a hike and the time during which my body is burning whatever glucose is lying around in my bloodstream that makes me anxious and conservative. I have arguments with people who are not there. I question all my decisions up to the point that has put me on this uphill path. As I get older, this review process takes longer but the results are still the same: I battle a fierce urge to call the whole thing off and go home for a nice nap.
Fortunately, I have learned to wait for Minute 16. The yammering to give up, to not even attempt the ascent is suddenly muted when my body switches over to using stored energy which I have providently brought along on my stomach, thighs, and butt. My breathing evens out, becomes deeper and easier. My shoulders loosen and my hips feel like they could ascend Everest. This is a much more pleasurable time than Minutes 1 – 15 but it is an illusion, too.
Minutes 25 and on remind me that I live a mostly sedentary lifestyle. The yammering now comes from other places in my body than my brain. Places where arthritis is launching a base camp or where my more active years intersected with immovable objects. I notice that my breathing now resembles gasping and wonder why I left my inhaler in the car 1,900 feet below. I have also run athwart the only mutant mosquito clan in New Hampshire. They suck my blood and I am forced to listen to them rejoice in their immunity to Deep Woods Off. I stop to take deep breaths of the sharp evergreen air so that I can remember the beauty of this moment when I am lying in bed with West Nile Virus.
Something always knocks me out of my trudging Slough of Despond. Sometimes, it’s a friend pointing out a tiny, perfect fungus under a rock ledge. Often, it’s the moment of hearing and seeing running water no matter how tiny the rill might be. This time, it is finding a discarded piece of fabric hanging from a tree branch.
Trash in the woods makes me crazy. I carry a spare trash bag just so I can gather up eyesores from the trail and curse the pigs who have left behind such treasures as two Dunkin Donuts bags, a half-smoked Marlboro butt, a chunk of beer bottle glass, and most confusingly, an entire Dr. Scholl’s Gel Insert. Seeing the flash of white cloth carelessly dumped on a pine gave me a burst of self-righteous energy and I went stomping up the path to retrieve it.
Miss You Wendy Y
That’s what was written on the strip of white nylon hanging from a piece of black parachute cord caught tangled in the branches above. This was not carelessly discarded nor was it trash. I suspect that the wind had brought a deflating balloon with the message tied to its tail to rest in the tree.
The rest of my hike was spent huffing and puffing and feeling so damned grateful that, even though it took me almost twice as long to get to the peak as estimated, I got there. The cool breeze from the north was better than a drink of water. I looked for Boston in the southern haze but couldn’t find it. I flexed my weak ankle and decided that it could handle the descent. I ate a couple of tiny ripe blueberries, the juice hot from the noonday sun.
My trash collection bag for the day went into the barrel at the Ranger Station below. My final count was: two Dunkin Donuts bags, a half-smoked Marlboro butt, a chunk of beer bottle glass, a Dr. Scholl’s Gel Insert, a fragment of Mylar, a crumpled brown lunch bag and a Granola bar wrapper. No strip of cloth.
Here is what I realized in the last 15 minutes of my hike.
1) I love the hollow thump of my boots on the trail.
2) I love scent of warm fir trees in the sun.
3) I am out of shape, bits of my body don’t work as well as they used to but they work well enough.
4) I sometimes lose the arguments I have with people who are not there.
5) My name isn’t on a strip of white fabric dangling from a tree.