The Long Hike
(pictured: my husband Todd with either me or my mother – I cannot tell which)
Todd kept seeing and pointing out interesting things on our hike this past weekend. There was a trio of snails the size of ping pong balls clinging to the trunk of a chestnut oak. A covered bridge was up ahead, and soon we would get to cross it. A pair of trees off to the right had fallen and landed across one another perpendicularly. They formed a perfect “X.” Could there be treasure buried beneath that “X” of trees, he asked the kids. Do you see this? Did you see that?
When I hike, I see my feet. Correction: When I hike, I see the roots and rocks that I am trying to avoid tripping over with my feet. That is how I hike. That is also the manner in which I cross a parking lot or maneuver through a store. Chin to chest, like Charlie Brown. If you saw me from a distance, if you didn’t know me, you’d think I had just lost my best friend.
I am not depressed, I am simply clumsy. After a lifetime of falls down stairways, flying leaps over pets and sprained ankles on uneven pavement, I have learned to look down when I walk. I am missing the view, and I know it, but what am I suppose to do? No one likes to fall.
Can I back up for a second and tell you where we were hiking? Can I tell you where we were?
Todd, the kids and I rented a cabin in Big Canoe, Georgia this past weekend with three other families to celebrate the birthday of our friend, Angela. My view on life being what it is, a grand Sociology experiment, getting eight adults and seven small children under one roof to negotiate shower usage, television programs, personal space, meal preparation and cleaning responsibilities with friends I rarely see (or, in the case of one family, didn’t even know) is a fascinating undertaking.
What I got out of the weekend was pool time, a trip down a rock slide, a paddle boat ride (which felt, as always, like riding a tricycle, but with less speed and enjoyment), a million laughs, a few cocktails, and the opportunity to hold several different babies in all their various stages: sleeping, barfing, happy, crying/desperate to get away from me and back to momma, fresh from the pool and smelling like chlorine, and fresh out of the tub, smelling like Heaven. What I did not get out of the weekend, at least not until the end, was the opportunity to go on a little hike.
There are several short, family-friendly hiking trials at Big Canoe, but lets be honest – nothing is 4-family-friendly. The timing proved impossible. Someone always needs to be breastfed or changed. Someone was always napping or too pissed off to to be brought out into the world. (My kids were the oldest children in the cabin by far, but they weren’t much better; you drive those two out to the mountains and they want to play “Temple Run” on the iPad or catch a rerun of “Full House” on Nickelodeon.)
We finally went on the hike Sunday after checking out of the cabin. One by one, the other families realized that they were unable to go, pulled as they were by the needs of their own children and the various obligations waiting for them back at their respective homes. It was just Todd, me, and the kids.
Todd is really something to behold in the woods. He spent his childhood playing in them and spends his adulthood working in them. He is lithe. Agile. He has a high tolerance for the annoyances of the outdoors. Sweat. Eyeball gnats. When we found that several of the bridges on the trail were washed out, he simply took off his shoes, tossed them to the other side, then crossed the rocks in the creek with a few quick, easy steps – one kid on his shoulder, and the other tucked under his arm.
If a sign had been posted warning us that the water in the creek was toxic, he would have still found a means by which to cross. He would have tossed the kids over in such a way that they landed comfortably on soft ferns, and then he would have shimmied up a tree and swung across the creek on tree branches like a gibbon.
The only thing that makes me more fearful of falling than hiking is crossing a creek on giant rocks. What if one of the rocks is loose and I lose my balance when it moves? What if they are slimy and I can’t get any traction? There was no way to know how firmly set the rocks had become or how safe their surfaces were until I got out there, but I did it anyway. I took a risk and I crossed the creek, because we all wanted to get to the top and see the waterfall. I cross it multiple times before the day was through. It terrified me every time, but once I got out there, once the soles of my feet contoured to the shape of the rock’s surface and the cool water ran over my toes, I was glad to have done it.
Todd looked so patient and patronizing when he watched me cross. This is the way I look at my mother when she walks around with us at Six Flags, I thought to myself. I knew that I looked like she looks when she gets into a gets into a roller coaster. Awkward and slow. Overly cautious. (I know that I will look more like her before it is all said and done.)
By the third time we crossed the creek, our daughter became impatient and ran off without us. Our son played in the dirt. He yanked saplings out of the ground, pulled snails off the trees, and generally behaved like a forest bully.
We eventually made it to the waterfall. It was beautiful, of course. Our daughter found the spot where she intends to build her house. We took pictures and headed back in the direction from which we’d come.
Near the end of our hike Todd was stung on the leg by some kind of bee or wasp. He urged the kids to run just in case he had stepped on a hive or something, and once all was clear he took out a pocket knife and scrapped the surface of his swelling leg with the side of the blade to ensure that the stinger had not been left behind.
This hike is us. This hike is our marriage – 15 years today. Rich as we are in friends, the tough stuff is ours to endure together and alone. Our friends have their own hills to climb. The kids are with us now, but they will blaze their own trails sometime sooner that we care to contemplate. It will be Todd and me. We will share dreams and ambitions, but we will have different perspectives as we work toward them. He will charge forth with confidence, his eyes fixed far ahead, and I will obsess over every little root that crosses our path. The bad stuff is predictable only in its inevitability, and we will have to do the best we can with the resources we have. I hope he wont secretly wonder if the waterfall was worth the bee sting. I hope I can take my eyes off the potential obstacles at my feet. I don’t want to fall, and I know that there is danger beneath me, but I know, too, that there is beauty all around us, and it would be a shame if my hyper-vigilance prevented me from enjoying the view.