Less than one short year ago, I would have called myself a hiker. Hiking was always listed as a hobby often accompanied by an enthusiastic proclamation of my love of nature and “hiking those trails.” No one was more shocked than myself to learn that was a lie. It may have come from my misunderstanding of terms like “trail” and “hike”. It turns out that what I do is wander around the forest, not hike. My idea of a trail is something the deer and I have formed in our repeated wanderings. So how did I discover that I was lying to myself and others you may wonder. Well, I began hiking with groups.
The adventure would start out well with a sack full of water and snacks, and a heart full of high expectations. I would enjoy the company and conversations of my fellow hikers as we headed out. As we paraded down the trail I would begin to wonder why we were going so fast. Is there a time limit, a bear behind us, maybe I had accidentally joined a walking competition? The high speed would require me to look down to make sure my feet were clearing tree roots and stumps. No one wants to be the one with a broken ankle spoiling the hike for everyone. I could hear birds and identify most of them by sound but never dared look in their high tree top direction. Our occasional stops were relished because I could look around and take a few minutes to enjoy nature. The short stops offered an opportunity to step off the semi-groomed trail, but not too far because we were heading back out quickly.
Looking down for most of the journey inevitably leads to my noticing plants. I bend down to admire the Rattlesnake Plantain in bloom growing right next to the Striped Wintergreen. I marvel and wonder at how I could have mixed up these two species in the past when side by side, they are so clearly different! I stand back up to share my ponderings and notice I am now alone. Is that my group I can see far ahead through the trees? Now I am going extra fast to catch up, head down, feet clearing those roots. As I rejoin the group I hear someone say “Did you see that beautiful deer and her fawns?”. No, I was looking at Rattlesnake Plantain and then my own feet. The wildlife is now long gone. Maybe next time.
Eventually the hike comes to an end. I have no pictures and can’t really remember seeing anything. I am sweating, breathing heavily, and grinning with a great sense of accomplishment at my fellow hikers and newly found friends. I hope they don’t realize that I am not a hiker. I hope they will still be friends with an avid forest wanderer. I think I will still list hiking as a hobby, but it’s really the wandering that is a passion.