Even at 7 a.m., it’s hot in Florida on the second of July. The rising sun cuts out patterns of dark on light through the trees. An occasional mushroom, bright white, pushes through the mud-brown leaf litter. The color green bathes the trees. An insect shouts a high-pitched, undulating hum. Birds chatter and sing, some melodious, some staccato; some chirp one after the other, others warble at random, adding to the chorus.
As you walk, you generate a slight breeze that wicks the moisture from your limbs, but when you stop, the beads of sweat return, along with every mosquito within a five-mile radius. Never mind that you bathed in insect repellent 10 minutes ago; they’ve been seeking a warm-blooded body and you’re it. When you slap them, spots of blood and insect parts begin to appear on your arms and legs.
And you may ask: What is it about all this that makes it worth being tired, sweaty, bloody and mosquito bitten? Aren’t there better ways to spend your days?
I would argue: No.
When I put on my hiking boots and strap on my backpack, I shed a lot of things. I shed my role as an employee, a colleague, a friend, a wife, a mother. I shed other people’s definitions, judgements and assumptions. I shed appearances and expectations.
I lose the distractions of modern-day electronics and advertising, the constant background rumble of technology and industry.
And once I shed these things, once I lose these things, I find myself. But I am not alone when I do; no, instead I am a part of everything.
Part of the light.
Part of the sky.
Part of the wind.
Part of the trees, birds, rocks, trails, leaf litter, moss, brush, and even the insects.
When I hike, I rapidly return to the fundamental nature of what it means to be alive.
As I move down the trail, everywhere I look, there is life; flowers unfurling, saplings growing, birds flying. Everywhere I look, there is death; decomposing leaves, felled trunks of expired trees, the occasional scent of a deceased animal. Everything is in the process of doing both, everything including me.
I hike to remind myself. I hike to remember that life is beautiful and uncomfortable and exhilarating and painful – sometimes all at the same time. That is the nature of all things. I hike to remember that I am a part of it, and I am grateful.