“Hurry up!” I shouted off toward the edge of the woods where my hound was having a pre-pee before getting in the car to go someplace he was going to unload his truck-like gas tank-sized bladder. “Why do you always have to pee before we go? The trail is literally a few minutes away.”
Haggis trotted back to me and the rover before easily leaping inside of it.
Vigilance, he said, settling down in the back. Anyone nosing around will note this place is well patrolled—and often.
I rolled my eyes, but put the rover in drive and started the two of us toward the four mile stretch of woodland path we regularly navigate about four times a week. It is a county park, but to me, it is a sanctuary.
Which is utterly ridiculous when I reflect on where I live, because where I live is as “sanctuary-like” as one can get and not actually inhabit an island, or live in the hut of a polar expedition, or within the capsule of a manned mission to Mars.
Yet, I feel this deep desire to go somewhere that isn’t home to do some serious pondering on all jumbled thoughts at the end of a day.
When I first discovered the trail, I was insanely excited—nearly matching the frenzy of joy Haggis expressed, as he too was beginning to mutter about the same dreadful slog up and down our homestead hillside, and craved the scent of other animals that hadn’t already been categorized into one of three tiresome classifications.
Hey, he’d say with a glance back toward me as he stood over a patch of tall grass. Newly discovered fresh death, or Meh … newly discovered old death, and lastly, Wherever this guy is, he’s about to keel over because I can smell death in his pee.
My excitement was generated more from the “new scenery” situation and although new scents were part of it, none of them, I assure you, emitted the odor of anyone’s demise.
The “Deep Creek Thinking” trail is a moniker given to my hikes of how I wish those treks were, but cannot truly claim to be representative of the actual experiences themselves.
In truth, the trail has proven to be a doppelganger topographical map of my life, and during the last four years, as I have governed a new straightaway section of independence, this trail repeatedly surprises me with its dead-on accuracy depicting all that I face, embrace, and fall flat with.
Yes, literally, a face full of dirt is a regular occurrence.
Like the landscape of my life, the terrain I was now exploring was not the proverbial “walk in the park” I was hopeful it might be—all philosophical and Walden-like. Tree roots leapt from the ground to snag at my feet continuously, new rocks were pushed to the surface of the trail in new places every day, and branches reached out to hinder hikers like an impatient toddler grasping at the pant leg of a parent, determined for attention.
It was impossible to look anywhere but down. Well, it was possible, it just wasn’t safe. I figured out that little pearl after my third sprawl.
“Hey!” I’d shouted farther up the trail, spitting out a mouthful of decomposing leaves still too crunchy to be called dirt. “Little help here, please?”
I waited and counted to thirty and focused on assessing any concerning bone or muscle damage as I lay with my cheek pressed against the earth.
A thin, eight inch femur landed inches from my nose. Look what I found, Haggis had said.
That was enough to have me leap up from my pity party position. “Eww, is that human?”
Haggis raised his brows to signal a shrug. You’d know better than me. Hurry up. I’ve cornered a rabbit and treed a coon. Time is of the essence.
Our early days were filled with these exchanges, and now, four years later, whenever I’ve taken a flying sprawl, they’re more representative of:
How did you not see that root? It’s been here for … Haggis would glance up to access the tree, sixty—seventy years?
“It was covered with leaves,” I’d barked back at him.
I have a mental map of the landscape. This never happens, he’d said with a roll of his eyes.
“Bully for you.”
Don’t you have a mental map by now?
“Don’t you have some dead deer’s carcass to roll in somewhere?”
But he was right. After four years, this trail remains just as challenging, as there seems to be something new continuously thrown into the mix that precludes me from getting too comfortable. For instance:
I’ve started running every uphill stretch because … ugh, exercise.
One day of solid rain turns the entire path into an exhaustive, cumbersome mud pit that will repeatedly suction my shoes right off my feet.
Fat trees with boundless branches fall upon the trail and need scrambling over, under, or sometimes the very long way around.
A swarm of thirty or forty bikers will suddenly come crashing around a curve, an unbroken swarm of brightly colored, helmeted bees relocating from one hive to the next, wholly unaware of the odd hiker and hound they’ve sent flying into the thorny bushes off the path.
The above obstacles on my footpath are perfectly mirrored by the impediments on my life’s path. They’re not unlike my grasp on healthcare—which is a never ending uphill marathon, or general home maintenance costs—which are exhaustive, cumbersome money pits that will suction the coins right out of my bank account. They’re nearly identical to all the hurdles that fall in front of me—testing to see if I have the meddle to maneuver my way around them. And are as stunning as the fast-paced, pitches and curve balls that send me diving for cover—usually one that can be identified as a quilt.
But as a result of a long ago developed mulish and stroppy mindset, I force myself to see the trail as an invaluable experience. The path is not so much a trail as it is a training ground.
I suppose as my “mental map” grows, I will stop playing offense and pick up more of a protective “I’ve got this under control” type of attitude like Haggis enjoys, peeing on vulnerable areas that need to be defended. And like it or not, anyway you look at it, his method somehow always provides relief.
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