by Larry Mahrt, Greenbelt Land Trust volunteer
On a beautiful day in late February – that special time of year when winter gives way to spring – seven of us ventured out for a hike. Our group was a mix of chatty hikers and others who favored quiet hikes. A couple of the quiet hikers hinted that they would prefer the group engage in fewer conversations so they could concentrate on the surrounding forest. The chatty hikers responded by saying that, for them, hiking in a group is a social thing.
Gradually, the quiet hikers put a little distance, about 50 yards, between themselves and the rest of the group. I remained with the conversation group but hoped they wouldn’t get too interested in identifying plants and birds because I can never remember the names and I’d convinced myself that I did not care (ego protection measure).
After listening to the conversation for a while, the guy next to me mentioned that he saw a “Blue Crested Western Nut Cruncher last week” (don’t quote me on the name). His statement demanded a reply. This was the conversation group, after all! I thought to myself, “what is a Blue Crested Western Nut Cruncher and why couldn’t it have been a crow or a robin?” I considered responding with, “yeah, those Nut Crunchers sure have strong beaks,” but I thought it sounded a little lame. Instead, I mentioned that it seemed too early in the season for Nut Crunchers. Thankfully, he had the same impression.
After successfully negotiating that conversation, I chose not to press my luck and gradually made my way to the safer, quiet group. If you see a Nut Cruncher while hiking with this group – it’s best kept to yourself! However, soon after arriving I learned that a little conversation was tolerated and even laughter, once in a while. As I hiked along, I wondered if my fellow quiet hikers were immersed in the ambiance of the forest or, if their minds were wandering or maybe even thinking of stressful things.
For me, it’s effortless to clear my mind during a long hike on a cold, rainy day. Eventually, I become too cold, wet, tired and, sometimes, hungry for my mind to wander or to be burdened with thoughts of deadlines and to-do lists. My mind takes on a more primitive perspective, focusing on meeting basic needs like getting to a warm, dry place and eating something. Meditation skills not required.
Years ago, my dog Kayge and I would get away from it all by traipsing off-trail cross country through the coast range. We rarely saw other people. Sometimes my concentration was on figuring out where to go and how to avoid getting lost. Thankfully Kayge always seemed to know her way back. Over the years hiking together, Kayge and I ran into a number of shy or oblivious black bears and twice, we ran into unaggressive cougars – my favorite kind! These hikes were a real escape.
These days, I prefer well-maintained trails. Recently, while hiking along Mulkey Ridge Trail on a day with passing, cold showers, I thought how nice it would be to have a small espresso place discretely located uphill from the trail … maybe with fresh, warm scones and homemade soup. I am not proud of this thought.