Monday, July 15, 2019
The Joys of Summer #5: Hiking
Normally, when I go to write these things, I pause for a second, muse momentarily, then nod briskly once and dive into what I have to say. The path is clear.
But here, oddly, I sat a moment, pursing my lips, gazing into the middle distance. How to explain hiking? The immediate response seemed to be to invoke the line I sometimes fire at readers who ask insincere rhetorical questions, Louis Armstrong's supposed quip to some weisenheimer who demanded he define jazz: "If you have to ask, you'll never know."
What is there to say? You go to a place and walk. The place should be beautiful, yes, but it doesn't have to be. I can't recall every going on a hike that wasn't. Are there trees? Fields? Clouds? Vistas? Flowers? Then it's beautiful. The hike makes it beautiful.
Why? Because it is a rare moment in your life when you are not getting or spending, not doing routine tasks, neither idling nor exercising, or some combination of all these things. It doesn't matter where you go, or when. You can hike in fall, when the colors are turning, or spring, when life stirs anew, or even winter. But summer is best, the warm weather, the free time. The above is Shenandoah National Park, in Virginia, where we went last summer after setting our youngest up at Virginia Law.
I supposed it helps to be prepared. I have an excellent pair of hiking boots—Keen's—that make me happy to lace on, happy to walk in, happy every time my eye caresses their perfect lines. They want to walk, and lucky is the person who happens to have their feet inside them.
A water bottle. A bag of trail mix. A day pack with a jacket. You go into nature prepared, and maybe that is part of hiking's appeal. You don't need a coffee grinder, or a snow blower, or a gallon of Tide, or all the thousand possessions and supplies and accoutrements you clutter your life with. You've got a pocket knife and a lighter, so are prepared to face whatever life might throw at you that day.
Hiking makes everything precious. Think about it. At home you've got an infinity of water a tap turn away. And you value it .... not at all. On a hike, you heft your water bottle, feel there is a good eight ounces left, enough to get you down the mountain to the parking lot. You feel blessed, lucky, prudent for not guzzling it all on the way up.