Before I begin my tale, here's a little back story for you:
I go hiking several times a week. I'm not super hardcore or particularly good at it, but I love it and feel lonely and out of sorts if I haven't hit the trails at least every other day. It's something I do to reconnect with myself and my mountain mother, refocus my thoughts, appreciate the small things, and practice respect for life, no matter how small (or creepy) it seems.
I've gone by myself regularly or with others for a few years, but starting in January, a couple beautiful souls have regularly joined me on my expeditions. These adventures have now become our adventures, and I have learned many things from my hiking buddies. I believe that people are in my life for a reason and that I can learn something new from every soul.
With a back story like that, this tale of course, begins with a hike:
This week we were feeling particularly adventurous and took a detour from the main trail and followed a path (probably a deer path) leading along the base of some cliffs. It wasn't death-defying by any means, but it required complete attention to the trail and our surroundings. The path inclined along its merry way up a rock every now and then and the trail narrowed on some slopes, but I was in no danger (except for maybe slipping a few feet and landing on my bum or getting tangled in some scrub oak).
There were signs that people had been on the trail before. Someone had gently hung a pine cone on a outreaching branch. You know, the kind you cover with peanut butter and seeds to share with birds. Someone had erected a makeshift monument and hung wildflowers from it. We had observed the swallows dancing unpredictably and swooping from
these cliffs on our way up to this point, and I could watch them command
the air for hours. Despite the encouragement I should have felt from these signs along with the reassuring words from my buddies, I still started to feel the fear build in my heart.
I became distracted from our goal, which was to discover new paths and follow the trail around or up the cliffs somehow. I was distracted by my shoes, which weren't the sturdiest for the terrain we were gallivanting over. I was distracted by the things I was carrying because my pants pockets were too small and my hands were occupied with hanging onto objects rather than steadying my footing. I was distracted by what I was munching on. I was distracted by my companions and started to worry for them. I was even distracted by the beautiful signs I had previously been appreciating (Was that monument a cross because someone died in this spot? Are those swallows trying to knock me off-balance by their dive bombing? This is not why I go to the mountains!). All of these thoughts started to fill my heart as I made my way more slowly up the trail.
The terrain became rougher. We had not been on this trail before and didn't know where (or if) it would connect to better-known trails. I was carefully weighing if we were reaching a point where it would be difficult or dangerous to retrace our steps, and luckily I wasn't alone. We communicated with one another and several times paused to discuss the practicality of continuing. After stopping for the third or fourth time, we realized an ultimate decision had to be made. We could continue along the unknown path but we were running out of time to explore. We could turn around and make our way down to guaranteed safety. Or, we could iron-woman it up some rocks to the top of the cliff, which we knew connected to a frequented trail but couldn't see because we were so close to it. You know, the forest for the trees and all that stuff.
I took careful inventory of my fears and realized that I could change what was distracting me for starters. I finished the snack I was munching on (ah, the focus was already coming back!), I shifted the things I was carrying so that I could use my hands better (efficiency, people), and I found my footing on solid rock (it had been there all along). I took a deep breath and we started to scramble up the rocks to the top of the cliff. And just like that, we were standing at the top.
It wasn't difficult at all. It had only appeared to be intimidating. My fears had partially ignited from the distractions I had placed on myself. (I totally had better shoes in my car and had just chosen not to wear them. Dumb.) The main portion of my fears were only because this trail had been unknown. Guys. The trail wasn't more than five feet from where we pulled ourselves up the cliff. And the view was amazing! As soon as I reached the top and could turn around my mind was blown with what I had just accomplished!
I soaked up the breeze and the warm sun rays and marveled at the magnitude of this crazy world. It's like a window the size of the mountain opened up and let in the most precious light and cast out all the doubtful shadows I had been trying to push down. My fears were instantly replaced with a bravery and pride that I haven't felt so strongly before. I realized that I had been afraid of nothing more than the unknown, which it isn't anymore.
We hiked down the trail in the highest of spirits, enjoying those spirited swallows swooping joyously around our heads and feeling so rejuvenated by what we had accomplished and excited to share this experience with others. On the way down I pondered on the metaphors found in the experience. I considered the parallel this was to my life journey, especially regarding decisions I've made recently. I considered the negative influence of distractions. I considered the purpose of friends. I considered the importance of having a solid footing and looking beyond what is see-able. I considered the nature of fear. I considered the nature of courage. I pondered the pride I felt standing among the swallows that had appeared to high and unreachable when we first started our journey but that we had risen to join. I learned a lot about my relationship with fear and am making some changes. I have found a fiery focus again that I realized I had become distracted from. Experiences like this is why I go to the mountains.
There are many refocusing rituals I use, but my most used (and usually the most effective for me) is to take a stroll through my mountains. They are sacred to me. Some people I love need the sea just like I need the mountains, some need a favorite furry friend, or some need personal rituals to bring purpose and focus to this beautiful thing called life. I'd love to hear what you do to recharge or encourage self-discovery. What are your mountains?