Of all the paths you take in life, make sure some of them are dirt.John Muir
I am late with my post today because I wanted to hike instead of writing about hiking. It was what I needed to do today. I will tell you why.
Yesterday I learned that a dear friend of mine had lost her battle with cancer. This was not unexpected news. She had retreated to her Hospice bed in May, and a couple of weeks ago, my friends and I received the text from her husband that she had lost consciousness and was unresponsive. But you are never really quite prepared when you get the news. Those of you who have experienced loss (and isn’t that really everyone?) will know this to be true. I had planned to go hiking yesterday, but the news sent me into a tail spin. Instead I sat and stared into space, not crying but numb with the finality of it.
Fortunately I have a two-year-old Standard Poodle named Lulu who is eye level with me when I sit down. She sat there with that pointy poodle nose just inches from my own, as if her sole purpose in life was to comfort me. I did not get the sense that the message was, “Get over it and be happy,” rather that she wanted to be present with me in my grief.
So today Lulu and I chose the highest point in the Okanogan Highlands where we live, Bonaparte Peak, the site of a still manned lookout tower, 7250 feet in elevation. I wanted to be close enough to feel my friend’s spirit soar, and in the process to maybe do some soaring myself. The trail is steep, ascending 2700 feet in five-and-a-half miles and follows the ORV route that is used to resupply the lookout. Views were obscured by smoke from numerous forest fires burning essentially in all directions, which unfortunately gave me one more thing to feel sad about.
Why is it we always look for something outside of ourselves to make us feel better? And did I even want to feel better? Maybe what I really wanted was just to be present with my grief, as Lulu sat with me gazing out over the hazy blue outline of mountains through the smoke. I wanted to be in a place where I remember what matters to me, even if that place is now suffused by smoke. I dipped the bucket into the cistern and refilled our water bottles with water from melted snow. I walked along the ridge line, leaping from one boulder to another. I ate my lunch in the shade of the tower while chatting with the ranger. A perfect line of subalpine fir trees caught my attention, narrow spires with blue-green needles. I did not really expect to heal this early in my grief. I expected simply to walk. It is what I do. I hike when I am sad, but I also hike when I am joyful. There is always that first step on any long journey.