Trail Magic

I haven’t made it up or down the Appalachian or Pacific Crest Trails yet, just short arms of the former and books about the latter. Cheryl Strayed can take the credit for making the PCT wildly famous with Wild, but before that I enjoyed A Blistered Kind of Love, about a couple who made the same journeya true test of togetherness that’s definitely something to crow about. Before that, of course, there was Bill Bryson, with his A Walk in the Woods on the Appalachian. And then there are the ancient trails across the sea. Joyce Rupp told the tale of her pilgrimage walk along the Camino de Santiago  with a quiet and strong voice in Walk in a Relaxed Manner. The list goes on ad infinitum.

It’s not clear anymore where I first read about trail magic–the trail in my mind is littered with books. But the author who introduced me to the magic so joyfully and vividly described stumbling on a cache of cold beer in a stream that I wanted some. And I hate beer.

Lucky for me, trail magic isn’t limited to just suds. The term is most often used to describe a small gift left behind by a fellow wayfarer, someone who knew you’d come along and appreciate the gesture amid the requisite sweat, blisters, and bug bites of a long journey on foot. But it can also simply indicate an unexpected joy on the path.

I almost missed my own trail magic today. I only had 20 minutes between summer camp drop-off and my work commute to walk around the bend of Cedar Lake in Chester, but I was quickly rewarded with the honor of depositing a wayward baby turtle back up onto the lakeside grass. Not long after that an unusually large (extended?) family of geese made a little parade across the street and down the bank. I walked by a slightly derelict French farmhouse-type house for sale, full of fantasy about the writing retreats I could host there, complete with forays to the water. Finally, I visited a unique gravestone at the tiny West End cemetery, painstakingly encrusted with colored stones. I waded through the damp grass and spoke to the soul honored there, reminding her that she must have been very much loved–and such a spot those who loved her chose! Across the  lake from the grave, summer camp was in full swing with hoots of happy children and bustling counselors. Trail magic, just from rounding the bend. Imagine what could happen with a whole coast!


Playing Hooky: A Crucial Nature Skill

I’ve set my sights on a day off alone before the long days of summer disappear.  I have a particular locale in mind, at least for a good part of the day. Fountain Hill Cemetery right here in town boasts a small but lively manmade pondone we have walked to after many school days to hunt for tadpoles and frogs. If we’re lucky, we see the rare heron, coyote, or fox. It’s no wilderness, and some might say a cemetery is an odd choice for spending time, at least before your time has come. But I like my nature mixed with history sometimes, and don’t feel any distaste for the residents who share the spacehopefully they have some knowledge that they are surrounded by beauty.

Our visits to the pond have always been times between–after school drop off and before work I have had walks there alone among the grassy hills , and strolls there after school have been limited by homework and dinner deadlines. On my last visit, I found myself wishing I could just sit quietly and watch the pond, and then sit quietly and watch some more.

I picked up an old favorite today–Flat Rock Journal by Ken Carey.  My timing was only a little off–just past summer solstice here and what I read was about an April or May tradition he and his wife kept. They’d each get a chance to “throw a few things in a backpack and set out to enjoy a day in the forest…Appreciation of the natural world draws out a self within us that knows what we, in our busyness, often forget.” His words that follow have me recognizing the urgent need for this kind of day:

I remember things in the forest, things I never intended to forget. Things that, as a child, I would not have believed could be forgotten. Johnny, our four-year-old, sometimes tells me of having seen faces in doorknobs or hearing voices among the trees–as if he senses some dimension within and behind what is culturally seen, an alam al mithal, as the Sufis say, where awareness saturates every particle, and beings inhabit all things.

Outdoors, immersed in nature’s season of renewal, there are moments, I find, when such perception comes. Moments when my awareness recognizes itself in all I see, and every pebble and leaf and tree looks back at me, mirroring some facet of myself.

When I feel I have been too long without this awareness, I know it is time once more to strike out alone into the forest, to experience a day among animals, trees, and open sky.