Got my hiking on over the weekend to prepare for the 30-mile Trailblaze Challenge. The Challenge is about three months away, but since I’ve never hiked that far in a day, I figured I’d better get out and see what I’m up against.

Apparently, I am up against a lot.

First, there was the four-letter word posted on a sign at the entrance to the Bent of the River Audubon Center. Well, to be precise, it was a four-letter word in the plural: Bears.

The warning sign posted at the entrance to Bent of the River in Southbury, Connecticut, that black bears are among us.

The warning sign posted at the entrance to Bent of the River in Southbury, Connecticut, that black bears are among us.

So there’s that.

I’ve seen the reporting of black bear sightings in the news for a few months and have been on the lookout, given that our home is surrounded by woods. I’m sure the chances of me coming upon one of these regal beasts are fairly small. Still, it’s good to know.

Add to that the fact that I recently finished reading, Emory’s Gift, a coming-of-age story about a boy who befriends a grizzly bear, and my awareness of the wildlife living in the woods was high enough to, let’s say, put a bit more spring in my hiking steps.

Reminding myself that I am hiking for a children’s charity, I took the bear warnings — both fictional and real — as a sign that I need to be fearless in my focus to get the job done.

I chose to hike the upper trails of the looping nature center, to get a level-set on my abilities, stamina, and overall fitness for the task that lies ahead in this Challenge. As previously noted, I’m up against a lot. And apparently, the recommended training goal for this weekend was 4-5 miles, so I fell a bit short there. Well, technically, I did log 5.5 miles on Saturday, but only 3.27 of that was actual “hiking” miles. But I’ll take it.

I was all alone in the woods for my hike. But in truth, I really wasn’t. The birds, the animals that were there but not directly within my sight— rabbits, chipmunks, squirrels, and who knows what else — all surrounded me. The trees stood sentry as I stepped along the paths. You might think I’m going overboard in my sensitivities to the experience, but it was an awesome feeling.

I have always loved the crunching sound of the sticks and old leaves — long since shed by the trees — and always loved the feel of the smooth rocks and soft forest floor under my hiking boots. I was tuned in to the sounds of the wind in action, and the rustle of streaming waters somewhere in the vicinity. I was surprised that I did not see a single person on my hike, at least not until I changed directions on the turn for home. But I was pretty pleased to have this natural beauty to myself for a couple of hours.

Climbing up the Pootatuck Trail, I barely stopped to hold a steady frame. The photographs in my mind are somehow clearer than this one, seized by my smartphone's lens.

Climbing up the Pootatuck Trail, I barely stopped to hold a steady frame. The photographs in my mind are somehow clearer than this one, seized by my smartphone’s lens.

I’ve come to cherish solitude, because it is one of those things that you must seek out with intention. Our daily schedules threaten it, and I worry that many of us are not mentoring our children to value it. We are quick to sign on to promote “peace” in our world, but what about nurturing peace within ourselves? For some, it is not easy to let the quiet have its time.

One of the benefits of volunteering to support the Make-A-Wish organization is my personal rediscovery of my love of the outdoors. And while I was thinking that my spontaneous volunteering was a bit philanthropic of me, I am already grateful for the gifts that these anonymous children have given me: a reminder of the beauty of nature and the chance to challenge my physical abilities. In other words, another way to explore being human.

Recommended Reading: 

I’m intrigued by the thoughts that came to mind as I hiked, and I have to wonder if these are the kind of thoughts that prompted Emerson to write Nature, or Thoreau to pen Walden (two books sitting on my coffee table for my ration of summer “fun” reading, once I finish my required research work). This year, my appreciation of nature has been energized by the reminders that this is the 100-year anniversary of America’s National Parks system. Suddenly, I’m researching John Muir and re-embracing Ansel Adams and savoring my National Geographic each month.
A couple of other books for your own exploration: Emory’s Gift by W. Bruce Cameron; A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold. Any other recommendations out there?

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