My latest Life Lines column, running in the current issue of Catholic New York:
I’m a wannabe hiker. And a wannabe camper and kayaker, for that matter. Although I’ve done a little of all of those things, I’m no expert.
A writing colleague who knew I was clamoring for a hike messaged me one night and asked if I wanted to join her for a beginner trip to Huckleberry Point in the Catskills. With a little appointment juggling and a lot of assistance from my husband, Dennis, I said yes, packed a lunch, and dusted off my hiking boots.
My friend Jill had offered to drive so she could drop her son off at a gathering at a nearby lake. She bypassed the fast-moving Thruway and opted instead for winding back roads. We could arrive 10 minutes faster, or we could be surrounded by beauty, she explained, adding, “I’ll take beauty.” As we hugged the mountains and drove through quaint towns, I wondered how it was possible I’d lived in the region for almost 14 years and had never taken this route.
Finally we arrived at Colgate Lake, only to find that her son’s friends were running an hour late. We couldn’t leave him there alone, so our only option was to stay put. I imagined how I might have handled the situation if it were my son whose friends had thrown off the schedule. At the very least I would have been annoyed. But Jill calmly moved the car, settled in and made her son—and me—feel grateful rather than upset.
We had an hour to sit lakeside with mountains all around us, not a bad Plan B, but I probably wouldn’t have appreciated it quite so much if not for Jill’s peaceful surrender to what was rather than what should be.
The bright blue sky above, the dragonflies skimming the water, the other families boating and swimming—how could a hike get better than this? I felt a shift somewhere deep inside as I began to realize what a blessing this hike day was turning out to be, even if we never reached Huckleberry Point. But we did.
When we finally headed out along the hiking trail, I felt soothed by the meditative rhythm. The trail required a certain amount of concentration to step over and around rocks. The climb required occasional stretches of silence to conserve energy and not struggle to talk. The deliberate and slow movement reminded me of the walks I’d taken on silent retreat, only this time I didn’t have to force myself to slow down; nature did that for me.
About an hour into our hike, we met two women walking in the other direction. We asked if they had reached Huckleberry Point. No, they said, but that was OK by them because it wasn’t about the view. Excuse me? It’s not about the view? Of course it’s about the view. For the rest of our hike, as I wondered if we, too, might have to turn back before we reached the summit, I mulled over this prospect. How would I feel if I hiked for three hours round trip and never got the payoff?
About an hour later, we reached Huckleberry Point, with its stunning view of distant mountain peaks and rivers and lakes. We ate our lunch on a rock ledge and watched a vulture circling far below us and clouds passing by at eye level. At that moment I started to plan my next hike, not because I necessarily need to climb up to a spectacular view but because I need to climb down into that space in my soul that still clings too tight to all the things I think I should do rather than the things I could do, if only I gave myself permission.
The next time you go for a drive, take the long route. Choose form over function, beauty over speed, and deep satisfaction over fleeting reward. Hope for the view but take joy in the journey.