“All that is gold does not glitter, Not all those who wander are lost.” -J.R.R Tolkien, The Fellowship of The Ring
I’m not lost! I’m standing right here, in the middle of a forest, looking up at the treetops and thinking silly thoughts. Thoughts like: What do you think the trees have seen in the many decades they’ve rooted to this spot? Who was the first human being they saw? Were they just a sapling when the first foot fell right next to their roots? Maybe they were a little older? I’m sure they’ve seen bears, squirrels, or something more Jurassic. But a person? I wonder who they were? What was their name? Why were they here? What was their story?
I love a good story.
Oh, here’s a silly thought! Wouldn’t it be cool, when they’re all alone, if the trees talked and moved? The sun goes down, the air turns cold, and silence falls. There’s a sigh, a groan, and they stretch. Finally, the tiny bipedal creatures are gone! We can move again. Their trunks crack as they shake off the stiffness and, yeah, it feels so good. Silly humans startle so easily. Gotta be still while they’re around so we don’t scare them but once they’re gone? The rain forest dances!
So many silly thought running through my mind as I stand here, in the middle of the forest, looking up at the treetops. Light shines through the very tippy tops and the needles glisten. They’re still damp from last nights rain and now they look like diamonds dancing high above my head. Sparkling, shimmering, dancing. You can keep the gems found deep underground. I prefer the diamonds in the sky.
What’s that? No! I told you, I’m not lost. I’m right here! Do I know where here is? Uh, well, kinda. My car is parked somewhere over there. The trail led here and it goes that way. How lost can I get following a trail through the woods? Oo, a squirrel! I wonder where it’s going?
Following would be a bad idea! Right? To be honest with you, I’m not an outdoor adventurer with years of survival training. I’ve never rubbed two sticks together and built a fire. I’ve never hunted for food with a bow and arrow or something more gruesome. I have picked berries! At a farm. I was eight. I’m guessing that doesn’t count as foraging for a sustainable food source. Yeah, I’m not a survivalist, but I like to play pretend for an hour or two. As long as the trails are clearly marked.
The last time I saw a bear, out in the wild, I thought it was a burnt stump until it wiggled. The stump wiggled. WTF? It turned, looked at me, and yawned. I froze, slowly backtracked, and started yelling, “The stump wiggled! The stump wiggled! Unlock the damn car!”
So smooth. So calm. Did not panic as much as I’d have thought. Mm-hm, nerves of steel.
You’re right! I shouldn’t follow that squirrel into uncharted territory but it’s so tempting.
A year ago, if asked, I would’ve confidently told you that I was one hundred percent a city mouse. Outdoorsy? Me? No! Trees. Fresh air. Muddy trails. Uh, no thank-you! Give me skyscrapers, diesel fumes, and sidewalks covered in apple juice. (That liquid is yellow. It must be apple juice. No other explanation can be found. Yes, I’m deliberately deluding myself.)
I liked the idea of nature and hiking looked cool for other people but me? I’m a gimp. My legs don’t always work. My hip likes to vacate its socket with reckless abandon. I limp. I hurt. Go out into nature? Uh, that’s for people whose bodies do what they’re supposed to do. It’s not for someone like me. My body is broken. I’m disabled. I do not belong out there with the able-bodied people.
I couldn’t possibly do it! No way. No how. I physically can’t walk out there and back.
But what if I gave it a try? Just once! Go out on an easy trail that’s not too long. There are a few places close to home and if I can’t do it then I turn back. No shame in turning back right? But what will people think? I should tell you that I don’t care but that would be a lie. Maybe, if I go early, no one will be there so I won’t get in the way and no one will see me hobbling along. Go early enough and no one will see someone who clearly doesn’t belong out there in the wild woods.
As soon as the sun came up, I walked out of my front door with my camera, walking stick, and dog. I drove down to the Fraser River and picked a trail that was a fairly straight shot to a lookout point. It was a three kilometer hike in. Easy. I could do it. Damn it, what was I getting myself into?
There were a few cars in the parking lot, but the forest was thick and it swallowed all who ventured into its domain. I followed the trail and it was quiet, peaceful. The trees seemed to rise endlessly up into the sky. Moss hung from the branches and the rising sun cast eery shadows. I half expected to see fairies bounce from limb to limb and werewolves on the prowl. As I stared into the trees, I pictured the first people who called this place home and I wondered how much it had changed since their day. This was their home and now it was a park. What would they think if they came back today?
I limped along, lost in my imagination, and before I knew it I stepped out of the trees and on to a beach. Clouds hugged the mountains on my right. To my left, a group of people paddled their canoes down the river. There was a bear print in the sand and I sighed. So we meet again, old friend. This time I won’t startle so easily.
I stared out at the river and for the first time in almost an hour, I felt the ache in my broken body. Somewhere in the trees, I’d forgotten about the pain. The pain had been there, it’s always there, but I’d wander out of my comfort zone and I’d forgotten about it. In that space, in that moment, the pain wasn’t a powerful as the trees, the moss, the bear print in the sand. More importantly, I was more powerful than the pain because I’d made it this far. I stepped onto the trail, put one foot in front of the other, and I’d done something I didn’t think I could do. I was slow and awkward but I did it!
It’s been a year since I first stepped out of my body and on to a trail. If you’re looking for me on a Saturday morning, weather permitting, you’ll find me following a random trail through woods or wetlands. I’ll have my camera, walking stick, and dog. I’ll look rather lost, and my limp will seem out of place but I slowly push forward. One foot in front of the other. Slow and awkward but there will be a smile on my face.
Not all who wander are lost but sometimes getting lost is exactly what I’m looking for. Picking a trail and following it until I forget the pain. Staring up at the trees until I forget that my body isn’t whole. Walking until I find this golden moment of absolute peace and stillness. It’s a moment where, no matter how many bears are near, I feel safe and strong. I feel like, maybe, I can do more than I think I can do.
You clearly do belong on the forest paths, like anyone else who seeks peace & adventure. I’ve always found wandering in the woods to be therapeutic – perhaps it’s the fresh supply of oxygen. Thanks for your beautiful descriptions of places I love & take for granted and had no idea others felt they didn’t belong in.
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