It’s Sunday late afternoon. I watch you walk into the airport with your bags. You’ll only be gone a few days. But as I drive away, I’m taken aback at how much I already miss you. It’s been a while since we’ve been apart.
Sundays are weirdly melancholy anyway and no time for goodbyes at airports, even short-term ones.
I drive away and head to Polecat Gulch in the Boise, Idaho foothills. It’s a sunny day in February and just above freezing and so, as always, the trail calls me. Hiking quiets my mind and frees my soul.
I park my Subaru in the dirt lot and head down the trail. From past experience, Polecat Gulch is a straightforward 6-mile hike on a sandy trail. Not too tough, with just enough elevation gain to break a sweat.
My mind is busy and wandering as I start out. I’m not completely in the moment.
And I am heading away from the sun and for some reason, that makes me sad. Maybe it’s because I miss you. Inexplicably, it feels weird, lonely, to start a hike late on a Sunday afternoon.
I take my melancholy Sunday soul further down the trail and come to a crossroads. Somehow, even though I’ve hiked this trail before and know it well, I’ve taken a wrong turn. And the dry, sandy trail has turned to sloppy mud. There hasn’t been enough sun to dry out this shaded part of the trail.
I’m climbing up and the sun is in my eyes, making it hard to see the trail. It’s getting windier and colder and I realize that my fingers are numb. Hiking in the mud is no fun at all and I’m slipping and sliding. Several times I almost fall down.
I start to get panicky because I’m all alone and somehow have gotten lost and there’s wind, mud, and glare. It’s all so silly because if I gave up and just rolled off the trail down the side of the hill, I’d be in someone’s back yard. Civilization is not far away.
And so, I figure it out and get myself unlost. Back on track, my feet hit the dry, sandy trail and I realize I’m facing the sun again. It’s setting now. A happy warmth fills me, a smile spreads across my face. The wind is gone and I’ve remembered to put my gloves on and suddenly everything is quiet.
My mind is silent. The air is still. All at once, the noise drops away and I am in the moment.
The setting sun is making the sand glimmer. I think of other places where I’ve seen sand glistening. Like the green sand beach on the big island of Hawaii. The white, powdery sand of the beach near Perth, Australia. I’m in Boise, Idaho and the sand shines here, too.
An owl calls. The brush is illuminated and seems to lean into the sun. I imagine the wild things saying, we’re ready for springtime. Green grass is already growing, in contrast with the trees still bare and sparse with wintertime. Everything glows including me.
This is why I hike in the wild places.
To find that peaceful place within.