I took a different trail on Saturday than my usual one, a narrow winding path up the mountainside called the Cannon Trail. I’d been hesitant to take this trail. Up until the beginning of the year, it had been months since I did more than walk around my neighborhood, and the steepness of the path intimidated me. But that afternoon my intense need for solitude overcame my worry about my fitness level, and I headed up the muddy incline.
It turns out I needn’t have worried; I’ve been walking several days a week since the end of December. The climb made me sweat a little, and breathe a little heavier, but I found I was stronger than I thought. And after a while the way became less steep, and the walk became easy.
Best of all, I encountered few others on the trail. Recent rain created fast moving run-off streams, cascading down the mountainside with a wild music. I stopped at each one to watch the water descend, pausing and listening.
Cannon Trail met up with the Wildwood Trail, which I followed until it crossed another path whose name I don’t know, because the wooden sign was missing–stolen, or rotted away from the metal post that should have held it. I stood at this meeting point for a long moment, looking down the slope at the cloud I’d just walked through, thinking about the power and symbolism of crossroads; about how our forebears’ reverence for the forest must have been shot through with more than a little fear; about how the woods need almost be afraid of us now. How loving the wild wood has never been without some measure of dread, though what we dread may be different now.
But on the way down, all this mental chatter ceased, and my awareness was full of the the song of falling water and slowly swaying trees. I experienced that overflowing feeling, an aching fullness that only comes when I’m fully immersed in a moment of perfect beauty. Such moments are worth working for, worth getting a little muddy for, worth sweating for. The best path isn’t always the easiest one. I have to remind myself of this almost every day.