Near the end of a recent 8-ish mile hike in the Ozark Mountain region of Missouri I was faced with an unexpected turn in the path. A break in the hot summer weather had brought a few welcomed days of cooler temperatures and lower humidity, perfect for a day at my favorite state park. I was feeling awake and alert and strong. The setting was beautiful with the greens of the woodland vibrantly alive. All of nature seemed to be delighting as I was to the temporary shift. The trail I chose is rated moderate to strenuous, quite hilly and rocky in some areas. I was very ready for a rest at the half-way point. After lunching beside a flowing stream darting with minnows and water striders, I unpacked my hammock and tied it between two trees in earshot of a little waterfall. An hour-plus nap cradled in nature left me feeling more calm and ease than I had in weeks. The final leg of my hike led through a short needle pine forest, the floor of which was a fairyland of ferns, mushrooms and mosses, the path deliciously soft under my tiring feet. The way had been a smooth and steady downhill for some time, and with growing confidence I assumed that the last mile would be more of the same.
I had just glanced up at the rocky bluff to my left, admiring its height, when the path abruptly turned toward its base. I briefly looked to see if there was another way, some easier option, but to no avail. I resigned myself to the climb. Suddenly feeling tired and hot, my pack seeming heavier despite having already consumed most of my water, I was more than a little grumpy.
Keeping my eyes glued to the trail to avoid tripping or slipping, and occasionally using my hands for balance, I picked my way up the rocky steep. I was so focused on what was just before me that I missed what was around me until I reached for a rocky hand-hold next to a small plant. I quickly recognized it as a low-bush blueberry, and it was laden with tiny ripe fruit! My smile grew quickly as I tasted one, it’s crisp skin yielding the sweet juiciness of blueberry essence. I gave thanks for this little gift from the Earth, and helped myself to more. Bush to bush I made my way up the ancient mountain to it’s peak, smiling and singing a song of gratitude in my heart. The view at the top was worth the effort: a nearly 360 degree vista of the surrounding woodlands and wetlands, flowing streams, nearby and far-off Ozark mountains. And yes, the rest of the path was down hill all the way.
How habitually I go toward treasured outcomes! Yet it is so often not an easy coast downhill. I can fight acceptance of what is. Or I can be with the uncertainty of the path before me, filling myself with presence and opening to the unfolding, even when the way is rocky and rough. And as I go, I want to remember to keep a look out for simple gifts in unexpected places.
This post was written by Lucinda Sohn