When we walk like we are rushing, we print anxiety and sorrow upon the earth. We have to walk in a way that we only print peace and serenity on the earth. Be aware of the contact between your feet and the earth. Walk as if you are kissing the earth with your feet.Thich Nhat Hahn
I never imagined that there would be a Part Two for any of my posts, but I was surprised and delighted by the comments I received last week and the attention it drew when I posted, Why I Am Not a Thru Hiker. I admit that I was apprehensive about posting anything less than enthusiastic about thru hiking, but apparently there are many hikers out there who share my sentiments, and many even expressed relief that someone had given voice to their own feelings about crowding on the popular trails.
The experience caused me to recall an encounter with a thru hiker on the PCT a few years ago. My daughter Leah and I had stopped to rest and have some lunch at a mountain pass in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area. We were soon joined by an ambitious young woman and told our stories, as hikers often do when they pause along the trail. She had started her journey at the southern terminus in April and proudly shared that she was averaging thirty miles a day, her goal being to arrive at the Canadian border by August 1st so that she could then travel across the country and begin her next thru hike of the Appalachian Trail. Leah replied that we were section hiking and covering just ten miles a day. She looked at us aghast. “What do you do all day?” she asked in apparent anguish on our behalf.
“We hike,” was my reply.
“I mean, how do you spend all that extra time?” She did not wait for an answer but went on to say that she simply would not know what to do with herself. I thought about telling her what it is like to savor my cup of tea in the morning, to read a book while the first rays of sunlight warm up the world, to watch the steam rise, the new day begin and to know that we did not need to be in a rush to get out into it. That is how we spent our time. . .savoring the mountain mornings, bathing in the evening alpenglow, and it was not difficult at all. It was in fact quite wonderful, and I was sorry that she did not know that.
I did not tell her any of those things though. It seemed genuinely upsetting to her to learn that there were hikers on the trail who were not in a hurry to get to the end of it. The trail seemed to be something to be conquered for her, a race, a new badge for her pack.
Hikers are fond of reminding each other to “hike your own hike.” Apparently we need reminding because many, like the woman I just described, are fond of telling others how they ought to do it. On the PCT, for instance, I was regularly informed that my pack was too heavy. They were right, of course, but it was a manageable weight for ten mile days, and it allowed me to carry a few luxuries along, like a book and my journal. I was, in effect, “hiking my own hike.”
Not being in a rush seems like a good enough reason to slow things down, but this week, as I listened to the news of what is happening in Ukraine and admired the profusion of sunflowers blooming on social media pages, I was reminded of yet another reason for taking it easy. Walking slowly is peaceful. We could use a little more of that in the world.
All right, I am not so naive as to suggest that simply by walking slowly we will force the tyrants of the world to abandon their power grabs. But I know that when I take the time to savor a cup of tea or pause on the trail to inspect a wildflower, something inside of me changes.
I don’t know how to change the world. I thought I did once upon a time, but even after a long career in public service I realize I didn’t really change very much. But I do know this: when I take the time to walk softly upon the earth something changes in me. It is called peace.