Through the Woods

Stepping silently is impossible, especially in the woods.  But under the refuge of a heavy rain, each step disappears, blunted and blended into the sounds of the rain.  If ever I needed to escape or evade, I would hope for a downpour to hide my sound, my scent, my very presence, truly allowing me to leave no trace.

Perhaps it is the feeling of being encapsulated in a rain shower that causes an illusion of privacy.  As we put one foot solidly in front of the other, I forget my companions.  I look around in a panic realizing I haven’t heard Tisen’s familiar jingle for quite a few yards.  He is close at my husband’s heels, still trying to keep his head dry by hanging out under the over hang of Pat’s pack.  He hasn’t yet learned rain is its own kind of shelter.

Stepping through the rain becomes a meditation.  I cannot hear my own breath nor even my thoughts.  My mind has gone still and I focus on planting a trekking pole, placing a foot, planting the other trekking pole, placing the other foot.  I feel the muscles in my arms flex as I push off the poles.  I feel the twinge in my knee that threatens to turn into a sharp stab should I push it too hard.  My shoulders are already screaming.  I shift my focus back to my steps.  I don’t think about the distance left or the distance behind.  For those moments, I am my feet, my arms, my shoulders, my legs.  My boots and the ground move together as if the earth moves with me and all of me has melted; I am the rain.

Then, it stops raining.  My metaphysical moment evaporates even before the sun dares to break in through the clouds.

Returned to my more mundane reality, we find a spot to stop for a snack.  I slide out of my pack and dump it, rain cover down, onto a log.  It looks like an overturned turtle who has given up and stopped waving its legs.

I can’t remember ever enjoying trail mix so much as I enjoy it standing on the trail with a grumbling stomach, wondering if we will make it back without stopping for lunch.  Tisen stretches out and opts for a quick nap while we finish eating our apples before strapping our packs back on.

Now, the wet forest demands my photographer’s eye.  Every stretch of the trail reveals even more beautiful mushrooms.  I do my best to capture some of them with my 24-70mm lens, but I wish there were such a thing as a weightless macro lens and tripod so I could get up close and not worry about camera shake.

We hike faster as we get near the end.  My mind is no longer in the moment.  I’m longing for when I can set down my pack and know I don’t have to pick it up again for a very long time.


Blazing Trails

After allowing Tisen a 20 minute nap at Edward Point, I decide we’d better start working our way down.  With our side-trips on the way up, we’re an hour behind schedule and we’ll be two if it takes as long to get back.

Unfortunately, the sun is now higher, the temperature hotter, and the bugs swarming more energetically.  I’m not sure if it’s the heat or the bugs that get to Tisen, but not more than a 1/4 mile from Edward Point, he finds a shrub, runs into the shade underneath, and starts digging himself a nest in the dirt.  It takes quite a bit of coaxing to get Tisen back out into the sun.

Fortunately, we are back in the shade a little further down the trail.  And the turkey vultures who greeted us on the way up have given up on us dying, disappearing down the river valley.  I took that as a positive sign.

Because I had opted to break in my new hiking boots in anticipation of a back-packing trip the following weekend, my knees were suffering.  My left knee was the first to start screaming.  This has something to do with inflammation.  As my knee starts to swell, it no longer wants to bend.  When I bend it and step downhill, a sharp stabbing pain shoots through the joint.  It makes going downhill excruciating.  I make a mental note to make sure I figure out how I can carry my camera and still use my trekking poles before we set out backpacking next weekend–I imagine my knees won’t hold up to a backpack without trekking poles.  I wish I could wear my fivefinger shoes, but the rocky terrain and the extra weight of a backpack is a bit much for almost-bare feet.

We manage to stay on the right trail on the way back.  I am watching for blazes with the intensity of a pit bull.  Or maybe that’s Tisen?  When we get to the juncture where I went the wrong way on the way up, I look back to see how I got confused.  I realize there is no excuse for missing the main trail.  The blazes are obvious and well-placed.  I don’t know what I was thinking.

We keep on stepping, slower than I’d like, but we’re making more progress than if either my knee or Tisen gives out completely.  I have to lift Tisen over some big rocks in the part of the trail we missed on the way up.  While I’m glad I’m able to lift him, I am simultaneously worried about how much poison ivy he’s run through and how much of it each lift is getting on me.

We make it back to water.  Tisen plows in and lays down.  I watch and wait for him to look cooled and refreshed so we can continue on our way.