It is not so much for its beauty that the forest makes a claim upon men’s hearts, as for that subtle something . . . that so wonderfully changes and renews a weary spirit. ~Robert Louis Stevenson
That subtle something that Stevenson references above is love, in my opinion. Hiking for miles in areas surrounded by mountains, stately trees, and wildlife I’d never seen in their natural habitat, with amazing skies overhead and occasional otherworldly deserts, all punctuated by streams, rivers, lakes, and seas: these are the gifts of Mother Nature that resolved my sense of disenchantment (see Escaping Normal for more on this), healed my thinking, and delivered me into the realization of oneness with Her. Can anything other than love mend one so thoroughly?
Over the course of 3 years, I visited many places known for their visual charm, where I hiked hundreds of miles. I encountered moose, buffalo, elk, bears, marmots, all kinds of birds & reptiles, deer, squirrels, and chipmunks. The sights, sounds, and smells of these explorations in Nature were rejuvenating. And the experiences I had will forever make me smile.
Reading about nature is fine, but if a person walks in the woods and listens carefully, he can learn more than what is in books, for they speak with the voice of God. ~George Washington Carver
My funniest memory of hiking was on a trail in the Teton Range of Wyoming surrounded by autumn-kissed leaves, grandfather evergreens, and plentiful ground cover. I had been on the trail for a long while without passing another hiker, so I was in a bit of a meditative state. As I rounded a cliff, a sudden, severe screech shattered the silence, scaring me to shivers. Continuing onward, I soon saw the culprit: a tiny chipmunk, the apparent sentinel of the forest, screeching more frequently as I approached him! You little *%&#!
One of my most unusual hikes was in Northern Germany with a friend I was visiting. It was a long hike, through lots of hilly rural settings. We were on a trail for most of the day, but we also traipsed through a cow pasture. I voiced my concern that perhaps we were off the trail, and I was afraid we were going to be shot, but my friend assured me that her neighbors were a bit more lenient than mine in the US!
Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt. ~John Muir
Cathedral Wash in Northern Arizona has been my most challenging hike, both physically and mentally. The trail drops about 400 feet in elevation through layers of sandstone which become towering cliffs on both sides of the trail in places. Many of the drops of 3 to 30 feet require an assessment as to how to descend to the next part of the trail, and there is some scrambling involved. The first time I hiked it, there were no cairns (markers) indicating the best way to proceed. On my second visit, the trail had been marked, but it had recently rained, and the best way to hike the dry trail is different from the best way to hike the trail with inches-deep water in places! Cathedral Wash ends with a breathtaking view of the rushing Colorado River just outside the Grand Canyon.
Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit. ~Edward Abbey
The trail that resulted in the most unexpected beauty at the end was the ascent up Glenwood Canyon, Colorado to Hanging Lake. I had heard good things about it from fellow rafters the day prior, but nothing could have prepared me for its extraordinary beauty. This is also the trail on which I learned one of my most important hiking lessons: always have extra camera batteries on hand! I got a few nice shots, but not nearly as many as I would have liked.
Hiking through the California Redwoods on a trail that took me to the waters of the Pacific Ocean qualifies as one of my most inspiring hikes. Glorious Redwoods enveloped me for most of the hike, and near the end, the view opened up to deep blue sky, gently crashing waves, and the rocky coast of Northern California. What a spectacular reveal!
All are but parts of one stupendous whole,
Whose body Nature is, and God the soul. ~Alexander Pope
In addition to the trails already mentioned, I’ve also trekked through a rainforest on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, made my way to the tops of waterfalls at Yosemite, and explored much of California’s Sierra Nevada. I have witnessed on foot the majesty that is Glacier National Park. I enjoyed a number of waterfalls while hiking the Columbia River Gorge and descended to the water’s edge at Crater Lake. I’ve hiked the Grand Canyon, wandered up and down the red rocks of Sedona, and traversed a great many tree roots and boulders on the way to the top of Mt. Humphrey’s, the highest peak in Arizona. Hiking the great outdoors has been good for me physically, but I feel it has served me even better psychologically and spiritually.
Nature has an incredible capacity to heal and rejuvenate us. Hiking among mountains, trees, lakes, oceans, and wildlife, I know I am at one with this awesome creation; I belong. The healing love that emanates from Nature is like no other: She is, after all, our collective Mother.
Rocks and waters, . . . are words of God, and so are men. We all flow from one fountain Soul. All are expressions of one Love. ~John Muir
Blessings for Oneness,