“Rock and Root” — a poem

Photo by Orlova Maria on Unsplash
Photo by Orlova Maria on Unsplash

A trail with no vistas.

What kind of trail is that? No grand finale, no big reward for the miles on foot—just a loop with lots of dead trees and no opening to view the surrounding forest and city nearby.

One year I lived in the South, I hiked that trail dozens of times. My partner and I lived in a small house a rock’s toss away from downtown, and I could drive to the park entrance, zoom past the guard shack while waving my yearlong park pass, and make it to the trailhead in about 15 minutes.

It was the same when I lived in Oregon years before that, where hiking trails were nestled in the hills surrounding the little valley we lived in, where the town wasn’t much but the terrain was alive with rugged disposition. That trail I must have hiked more than 40 times a year, right after a soul-sucking work shift, before the glow of foggy winter days succumbed to drizzly darkness.

Regardless of the season, without worry of weather, I laced up my hiking boots that had carried me hundreds of miles in jagged mountains, on snow-covered sidewalks, and through a few international airports.

One fall morning in 2014, the weather was particularly moody in a satisfying way. When the sun shone, I frequently passed a couple of hikers every few minutes, or one of those crazed solo trail runners who enjoy pain and for some reason think decadent food is the only motivation to keep them darting around. Not this morning: it was calm, quiet, meditative, and I felt I had the mountain to myself.

Sometimes, while spending time outside, I think about a quote from Thoreau:

“What business have I in the woods if I am thinking of something out of the woods?”

With subdued guilt I would often listen to an amusing podcast or music, but not this day. Sans headphones that accompany many a hike, walk, and drive, I focused on the pace: one step after another. Breathe, go higher, pass the tree, smell the dirt, feel the leaves. The further along the train I went, a few coherent words emerged, then a few lines, then the impulse to mark down the thoughts when I returned to the car.

This is what it was:

“Rock and Root” — a poem

Rock and root,
Glistening slick from night’s refreshment.
Away from the rain-shy crowds
left at the rolling hills,
Higher in, peaceful fog,
The cover of wistful solitude.
The forest’s silence broken only
By distant planes, brutish trains,
And emergence of human’s voice, strained.
In morning’s solace, nothing clearer.
Steady footing often a luxury,
Light and swift on narrow paths.
Mountain’s peace, the effort’s reward.

***

Sometimes you don’t need a vista to see clearly.

Originally posted on Medium.

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