When I walk the dirty trails that wander through the woods, I am walking the muddy Pennsylvanian paths my eight-year-old feet traversed, I am walking the journey of our ancestors as they crossed land to forge this existence, and I am walking closely to the sacred earth that we will bestow to our posterity. When I walk among the trees, deep into the heart of nature, and the white noise of industrial society is blocked out by the trunks and the branches, something special happens.
For my significant other’s birthday, and because I was craving a hike day, we took a day trip to a hiking spot about three hours away from our home. It was sort of spontaneous, because it wasn’t until the day before that I felt confident enough about the weather prediction to plan the trip into existence. The proposal went like–in the work office, as he clocked out and I clocked in–“Hey, want to go to Hocking Hills tomorrow?” “Tomorrow? Okay!” “Okay!” I love when he’s excited about the same things as I am, because it makes my excitement feel even more exciting. And I could tell he was excited, because he broke out into a big grin and said, “I’m excited!”
We got up early the next day–earlier than we usually do on our day off. (Usually there is one day a week when neither of us works; it’s my favorite day.) Preparing for the drive with the usual pre-road trip rituals, we stopped for gas and snacks, and he had to get his sweet coffee drink. Then, we are on the road: and we shift the verb tense, because I like writing in the present tense for some reason, like it helps the reader focus more on the ideas behind the words because the tense doesn’t get in the way. (Run-on sentence, oh well.) On road trips, I do the driving, and he does the navigating. I don’t pay him extra, but he also DJ’s, offers me food and drinks, and makes sure I’m still awake.
You have to drive a long time to get to a place where a manmade life isn’t apparent anymore. Miles and miles out of the city, voyaging to a quiet crevice inside the state. We’ve also learned the deeper you hike into these trails, the more private it feels as the swarms of tourists weed themselves out, and you can finally feel vulnerable.
Bryant and I have walked several hikes together–we’ve hiked in Oregon, California, Colorado, Pennsylvania, and around Ohio, so as we trudge up muddy slopes and climb over root formations, memories of past trails are evoked–“Oh, this part of the creak reminds me of the Royal Gorge trail.” Sometimes, it’s just the sound of a water dripping or a peculiar tree that parallels something familiar, and we use each other’s minds to pool our memories. “Hey, that one trail that was closed was in Portland, right.. ? Where we hammocked?”
I’m the one who does the stopping along the trail, because some sights I just can’t walk past; I have to stop and experience it deeper. Such as, standing at the bend in the trail, looking down over the cliff that drops off just inches from my big toe, or standing at the foot of a solid wall of rock that towers straight above. Other times I just want a picture, to collect another photographic composition. The truly breathtaking scenes never capture as fully as I feel them, so I find the smaller gems along the trail, the vignette of Mother Earth.
When I hike with my family, my dad and my mom are both the ones who stop, except my dad stops to search for nuts and my mom stops for pictures. They are the people who taught me to love hikes, and to love the color green, and to pay attention to what I’m looking at. I think, “Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints.” They also taught me to respect our environment.
Linear time is just another filter for our perceptions, so as I step upon this particularly muddy trail, I step through time and set my foot down on the trail as a young girl, as a teenager, as an adult, and as an old woman. I am connected to all phases of myself, just as I am connected to the exact same components of life that this earth possesses. Water, fire, air, soil.
We stop along the trail, wander off and find a nice place to perch upon a moss-covered rock. I close my eyes and focus on the sound of the water dripping off the slope of the boulder behind us, and the rustling of ferns and leaves, and a wild bird call echoing. This is so much more invigorating than the Sounds of Nature playlist I listen to at home. This is nature’s silence. It’s a different silence; the white noise out here isn’t cars or a running air conditioner, it’s water trickling and animals surviving.
It’s a great day. I forgot what 78 degrees felt like because it is still early May, but I bet correctly with wearing shorts. The sun is out and it’s hot, even in the woods, even low among the cool, giant, insulated rocks. We keep it moving, and follow the gorge far into the woods. Bryant is a considerate co-hiker, and usually goes first; he silently offers a hand whenever he thinks I could use a little stability, as we’re climbing up the wet path, and our feet slide down as we try to ascend. Anyone else, I wouldn’t accept their help, but with him, I like the teamwork.
I wish the day could last forever. I wish I had a notebook and all day to sit and write, because writing outside is one of my favorite things about summer. I wish I had a blanket or a yoga mat, to stretch and meditate beside the creak. I wonder about what I could change in my life so that I could be more connected with the earth on a regular basis. What if I were a park ranger, or a meditation instructor? I don’t wonder too hard, though, because I’m careful not to make myself unhappy by thinking about what I don’t have. Of course, then I retort and my mind bats the ball back and forth, and by the time it’s done volleying, I’m not sure where the ball has landed and I wonder if I’m talking myself out of something I want or if I’m wanting something I don’t need to have. And then I wonder if I’m over-thinking or if this is an appropriate amount of thinking.
We walk in silence, or we sing, or we talk about a Game of Thrones fan theory that pops into our head. Bryant walks ahead and I start spinning as I walk, my arms out, because I’m channeling the childlike energy that keeps our hearts fresh. He looks back and I catch up and we hold pinkies because it’s too hot to hold an entire hand but we really love that we’re here with each other.
After our afternoon of hiking, we stop at Dave and Buster’s on the way home. I order an “impossible burger” that claims it’s plant-based and as I take a bite, I feel almost sure this has to be a beef burger, it looks so similar, but the server comes over and quells my doubts. I like this place because we get to have a drink while playing arcade games, which is one of the coolest adult activities I’ve experienced. We play Tomb Raider together, then he beats me at Super Mario Olympics (which was bogus), and I won at a racing game, then he won at another bogus game, and at the end of dinner we had earned enough tickets to redeem us a small handful of candy. Fun Dips look so much less appealing now that I recognize it as 99% sugar. (Literally, a sugar stick that you lick and dip into more sugar. I’m horrified I used to love these.)
On the drive home, as the exhaustion sets in and the food hits the right spot, I start to feel sleepy. Bryant helps me brainstorm blog ideas, like he does so often, and that keeps me awake. He gives me a lot of good ideas, including one: “You could write about our day today.”
“That’s very… Bloggy,” I say. So picky.
“Well, it’s a blog. You used to write a lot more about stuff in your life, or your opinions about things. You can do whatever you want.”
I think I’m afraid to write about my life plainly, publically. I like writing about my life or my thoughts in coded ways, like through stories or poems. Especially now that more people are reading my blog than three years ago, I think, “Readers don’t want to hear about my life. They want to read stories or poems or comics, read about something bigger than me and my life.”
But Bryant is right. No matter what I write about on Slanted Spines, it’s still filtered through my perception, my voice, my truth. It’s slanted no matter how I present the content, and when I went on a hike with the love of my life instead of staying home to write my blog, I think it’s okay to use that experience as something I can share with my readers this week, for whatever it’s worth.
We stop for ice cream right before we get home. When we step out of the car, it’s much colder; why am I wearing shorts? It’s windy and almost dark now, and I ball the sleeves of my flannel into my palm as we shift from foot to foot while waiting for our ice cream. Under the stringed lights on their patio, I look at Bryant with all love.
I’ll write about our day together. I’ll write about how much I love him, how happy I am every day that I have him in my life to ground me, and how I hope he had an amazing birthday. I’ll write about how much I love hiking, and maybe I’ll confess something personal that other people may feel in their hearts, as well. I’ll share some pictures from the day, and be a little open about myself, and not put too much pressure on myself while I write it, and definitely, absolutely, enjoy it.
Thanks for reading.