You're right, I've been writing about my hikes since 1998 and I don't think I ever tried to define what hiking is for me.
First, it is not exercise. It is not really a social outing. It's not always exploration.
It is escape from everyday chores and concerns. It is discovery - both of things inside myself and things "out there." It is always spiritual and it sometimes is religious.
In a sense, I hike to grow. I learn new things, I see new things, I sense new things, I touch and smell new things, I stretch my awareness of things and the interconnectiveness of things, and I draw closer to the consciousness that created all things. I don't just walk.
Since I arrived in Sequim in 1997, I've hiked with a lot of folks and I've hiked alone. The older I get, the more sense it makes to me to hike with someone else. It's somehow unfulfilling to see a wonderful view or a magnificent tree, flower or animal and not have someone to share the experience.
It's also a lot safer to hike with someone else.
So, I guess there is a social aspect to hiking - but that doesn't imply that there has to be a lot of talk. Hiking for me is mainly about listening.
Birds sing or scream; there is almost always sound, moving water or air rattling leaves; there are squirrels, marmots, owls, chipmunks and sometimes something larger moving through the forest. The sound of nothing to me equates to the sound of the first snow.
Your eyes are never quiet or resting as you hike. You have to watch where you are going and what your feet are about to encounter; you have to see what is around you and what is not around you.
Enter the emptiness
I have an innate fear of emptiness. When I sense nothing beside me, I am nervous. Trails that cling to mountainsides offer wonderful views, but they threaten me. If I fall, I want to fall against something.
That is one of the reasons that I love rock. Sure, it's great to be on a peak and to be surrounded by God's creation, but I love the feel of rock beneath my feet.
There's something else about rock that I love. Rock is old. Rock puts my life and my being in perspective. The rock I lean against is millions of years old.
I grew up where mountains were worn down to less than half the size that they once were. Time and weather had whittled them down.
The mountains here are younger and newer, but they, too, have been forced upward by hard-to-imagine forces and worn down by simple things like wind and water.
These rocks are not just here. They have been put here. That gets my attention. These rocks have history just as I do.
When you hike, you begin to sense the magic of creation and the fact that this creation is not new. You walk through 1,000-year-old trees, million-year-old rock and, for me, it's very difficult to simply write all of this off as an accident.
Hiking puts things into wholes for me. In nature, it is relatively easy to see that everything that happens is related to every other thing. Nothing causes its own birth or destruction, with the possible exception of man, and I can't see how we can be so unconnected.
Creation and Creator
So, hiking is some metaphysical gift given to a few strange folks to help them understand that they are not alone. I hike because I sense a unity with the rest of creation and sense some small responsibility to try to draw closer to my Creator through attention to creation.
I know my understanding always will be imperfect. It's the imperfections that give me hope, though. If I had to be perfect, I know that I would fail. I'm too lazy to be perfect.
Heck. When I get tired of walking, I've been known to lie down in the wildflowers beside the trail and take a nap. I'm sure that someone will pass by and wake me up.
It's another reason not to hike alone.
Richard Olmer can be reached at email@example.com.
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