“It’s a real easy walk.” the ranger reassured me when I entered the park. Well, one man’s easy is another woman’s challenge dujour.
Broad and gently sloping, level footing, the walk started out fine. A picnic table appeared right when I needed a rest. The next 1/4 mile proved pleasant enough, but no more places to sit.
By the time I saw the first bench I was miserable. Sunday was a pretty good day, pain wise. But as I neared the bench my unhappiness arose and unfolded like a thunderhead. Anxious, sweating, and ashamed for every uncertain step, murmuring “C’mon, honey. You can do it. Just a few more steps.” I sank onto the bench and wept.
I’m 64 years old, and at least 100lb overweight. I need both knees replaced, but am ineligible for surgery. So I’ve found ways to cope with increasing inability to walk. Until this day, I hadn’t let myself feel how much I miss moving freely through the Forest. I haven’t faced what a profound loss it is to be so impaired.
No one was around. The warm fluttering leaves made a comforting sound as I let the tide of grief wash over me.
After a while I hobbled on to the waterfall viewing deck. Where there were no benches. The falls were a trickle. Young families came and went up and down the many stairs to the falls. I sat on a step and sighed.
How was I going to make it back up the trail? I was dreading that endless slog on my now-achy knees. I stood, dusted myself off. When I reached the main trail (level, gently sloping gravel) I spied a different trail heading up into the woods. It was the direct route- straight to the parking lot. Short! But very steep and rocky.
Can I do this? I felt scared. I wanted to call the ranger and have him drive down to get me. But hey, if I go slow, like a mountain climber, surely I can do this.
I climbed the first bit, and it got even steeper. But the rock layers and roots were like little stairs- one easy step, then another. I was laser-focused on my footing, aware that falling wasn’t an option. My breathing deepened, sweat ran in my eyes.
Just above me the gnarled roots of an enormous beech tree spread out, making a ledge. I can get to that, I thought, and have a rest. My heart was pounding. I took deeper breaths, and reached the base of the tree.
These ancient roots had folded and spread there to make what I can only describe as a throne. Padded with leaves and moss, I settled onto this heavenly perch and looked around.
I was good and tired when I got back to the car. A good tired, not defeated by my limitations, but connected – to my body, to the place, and even to my former self, who, 10 years ago could wander the Forest for hours.
Yikes! I was way up high! It was indeed quite steep, that first part, and now I sat suspended in air, the little valley arrayed below. I felt amazing, supported by strong Tree and Rock, one with the landscape. I was alive, alert, and present.
Taking that trip down into discomfort, through grief, and back up into gratitude was a healing. I can still be one with the wild places.