Those who know me best know that I love to hike. As I’m often fond of saying, a bad day on the hiking trail is better than a good day of nearly anything else. I’ve always loved the outdoors, although I can’t say that I’ve always really lived a lifestyle that reflected that. When I was in college, waaaay up nort’, as it’s said back home, I made a handful of excursions into the nature area behind my apartment complex. There was a nice little system of trails there, perhaps a couple of miles in total, with a small hill to climb that overlooked a picturesque little pond, campus, and offered a view of Lake Superior in the distance. Other times I would get in my car and drive down to the lake shore, either walking around on a well-traveled boardwalk area or else angling up the shoreline a few miles to clamber down onto the rocks and sit with a journal for a couple of hours.
But even then, I was dreaming of the Pacific Northwest, and made the move out here a couple of years after finishing college. When my dad and I crossed Santiam Pass in the central Cascades on a suddenly snow-tinged September evening, descending into lush green foliage and towering trees immediately after, I heard the hiking trails calling my name.
The last couple of years have been busy — dissertating, teaching, getting married — but I try to make as much time as possible for getting out onto the trail. Sometimes I just don’t have the time to range very far from home, and that’s just fine.
Take yesterday, for example. I needed to get the dog out of the house for a few hours while my wife held a concert rehearsal in our living room (six musicians + one anxious dog = pandemonium), so we headed out to a small park on the edge of town, to hike the main trail. While only 1.5 miles in length, it offers a pretty steep elevation gain that starts immediately from the parking lot, ensuring that even seasoned hikers will feel a little bump in their heartbeat over the first few hundred yards of trail.
As we reached the top, I angled towards a bench and clipped the dog to it, poured him some water, and sat down to admire the view. I only had my phone with me, but managed to snag one passable photograph, showing the valley stretching east towards the central Cascade range and the very pass I crossed seven years ago. I sat there surrounded by the tall grass, buzzing lightly with insect activity, and watched a very sluggish wasp come to a confused landing on my knee, before I batted him away. As my wife and I contemplate the next phase of our lives, which currently involves searching out full-time employment at other universities and organizations, we’are also thinking about the likelihood of a move back east, and so I sat looking in that direction, thinking about traversing all of those miles in reverse, of setting up in a new city or town far beyond the mountain range. I thought about all of the times I had hiked that very trail and others nearby, and of the great times I had with friends on those trails. Many of those friends have already moved off to new places, new phases, and new faces. A handful are still here, also scanning the horizon for the next ship to arrive with new marching orders, while still others are settling down here for the long haul. Transition phases are always difficult to manage, even when they bring the promise of positive change.
And of course, there is always the reality of the present to return to. My meditations were interrupted by an insistent dog paw scraping against my leg, as the dog frantically tried to call my attention to the fact that rain drops had started falling (he’s not fond of getting overly wet). As I headed back down the trail with him, I gathered in all the times I had hiked it with my wife, with friends past and present, and just by myself. The first time I came to that hill was during my first year in the Pacific Northwest, as I was just beginning to settle in and wondered what that might mean. It seemed fitting that I return as I contemplated pulling up roots, if that is what is required, to move on. I have not worn out these trails, by any means, but there are others out there, and I’m looking forward to finding them, wherever they are.