A recent Sunday afternoon hike with friends along a spring fed creek brought with it an opportunity for reflection.
As we walked, I noticed a significant change in the posture and cadence of my friends. Indeed I too changed as we walked deeper into the woods.
When we met at the trail head, a paved parking lot, I noticed no real difference in our interactions or pace of travel. But shortly after the pavement became a trail, the subtle change occurred.
I doubt that others noticed; they were enjoying one of the most beautiful fall days that could be imagined. Others on the trail also seemed similarly distracted. After all, that is part of the reason to reconnect with nature isn’t it? To escape some of the urban pressures if only for a while?
No fly rod accompanied me on this trip, though I did scout for fish every time the trail led along the water. Nor did I carry a gun for game. Invariably, my hunter-gatherer instincts were just below the surface; noticing flora and fauna, looking for tracks, and taking note of directions of travel and wind. Even though sounds of traffic were present at the outset of the hike, they dimmed with distance from the trailhead.
As we travelled, I noticed we were on a well marked and travelled trail. It was wide enough for two to walk abreast and converse; and so we did. Gradually the terrain changed, and the smooth trail became rocky and unlevel. Conversations became sporadic as care had to be given to routes of travel and the placement of feet.
The trail narrowed and snaked upwards along a cliff. Loose rocks and vegetation cluttered our way, and conversations waned even more. Gradually our route took us down toward the creek.
We decided to cross the water in an area where strategically placed stones appeared to provide safe passage. Some travelers found rocks which seemed to promise a firm purchase rolled underfoot and caused them to fight for balance before slipping into the shin-deep water.
Gradually we finished our adventure and said our goodbyes in the parking lot, departing to our separate homes, with elevated moods from enjoying creation.
I pondered though. It seems that in the city we walk with consistent strides and cadence. I normally only look at my feet when putting on my shoes in the morning. Seldom do I watch the sidewalks as I walk in the city because sidewalks are predictable…level…and boring.
However in the woods and creeks, I need to constantly adjust my stride to accommodate the demands of the trail. I must take note of rocks and stumps (and cacti in Texas), and perhaps the occasional snake. I must slow down and make adjustments. In order to look around, I need to stop walking to avoid a twisted ankle or worse. Conversations become condensed, as attention must be paid to locomotion.
Could it be that the elation we felt after the hike had as much to do with breaking our stride as it did with simply being in the outdoors? Is it possible that we are created with the innate need for variety, challenge, and difficult trails?
Perhaps as I walk in life, my difficult trails should be viewed not primarily as uncomfortable and discouraging, but as obstacles that help me boil things down to their essence. Maybe by enjoying the challenges from a change of cadence, it will allow me to experience elation at the end of the trail, and give me confidence for future rough roads.
Could it be gentle reader, that we all need a break in stride?