On Hiking

I came to hiking late in life.

When young, I clamored to climb West Mountain with my friends. In reality, we ran up the first foothill, declared ourselves exhausted, and spent the rest of the afternoon acting silly and enjoying the ten pound lunches we’d packed.

I began to hike for pleasure in my twenties when I backpacked in the Sierra Nevadas with my first husband, a man of quirks. He ate freeze-dried food with gusto, scooted rattlers safely off the trail, and refused to build campfires or sleep in tents because to do so would isolate us from the night.

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I admit his desire to embrace the night advanced my stargazing from the Big Dipper and North Star to more difficult prey like Cassiopeia and the blue glow of Vega. It’s easy to recognize constellations and stars when they hang within reach like sparkling fruit.

While backpacking, I carried a fair share of weight and made do with minimal grooming. I knew I was a dawdler, not a pacesetter, so I walked second in line—though I’d heard that rattlesnakes, startled by the first hiker, tend to strike the second.

At times I felt fear.

I once walked a narrow path along a sheer cliff and pictured myself rolling away like a potato bug. When my husband joked that perhaps we’d fall to our deaths more quickly in the thin mountain air, I didn’t laugh. I edged into rivers: facing upstream for better control, side-stepping over slick rocks, probing for footholds with a hiking stick, my heart thumping in my chest. We once out-waited an unexpected lightning storm, crouched together under a clump of brush as jagged spears ignited the world and my terror.

But such moments of fear paled in comparison to my appreciation of the breathtaking beauty I walked through while carrying a pack on my back. I’ll never forget standing among Ponderosas of vanilla scent with my boots planted against the slope of the trail, while I gazed at a sky hidden by swaths of twilight clouds. The retreating sun stretched the shadows of the pines thin and long: a multitude of blackened arrows crossing contoured boulders, curtained cliffs, and a sunset-splashed river.

Since moving to Colorado in the nineties, Joel and I have climbed a few of Colorado’s fourteen-thousand-plus peaks called fourteeners. Standing on the summit of a towering mountain, mesmerized by a view stretching into eternity in all directions from a vantage point on top of the world, I feel enriched, alive, powerful.

Joel about to summit

Joel about to summit

Of course, on the way down, I’m brought back to reality by two knees, aghast at what I’ve done to them, muttering and complaining with each step.

Unwilling to give up a hobby that enriches my life, I swallow ibuprofen and ignore their grumbling.

 

Why Have Hobbies?

In a recent Peanuts cartoon, when Lucy told Charlie Brown she was thinking of starting some new hobbies, Charlie said, “That’s a good idea, Lucy. The people who get most out of life are those who really try to accomplish something.”

Looking appalled, Lucy replied: “ACCOMPLISH something? I thought we were just supposed to keep busy.”

In the past, I thought like Lucy. Viewing hobbies as busy work to fill my idle moments, I pursued decoupage, macramé, origami, tatting, and yodeling. Each endeavor enjoyed the same success as my wish to be 5’6”.Wreath

My search for a busy-work hobby peaked when I scoured fields and ponds for nuts, pinecones, grasses, and twigs, which I used to make Christmas wreaths. I gave these creations to loved ones, who exclaimed happily and hung them in their snug homes.

I had used liberal amounts of a smelly liquid adhesive to attach my found treasures to the wreath frames. Too liberal. Over time, as the adhesive heated in warm homes, my carefully collected bits of the outdoors drooped from the wreaths and dangled like so many hapless bungee jumpers.

Looking back, I realize I also shared Charlie Brown’s notion of hobbies; my attempts to keep busy should accomplish something: impeccable cream puffs, granny-square afghans for all, a homemade wardrobe with nary a puckered sleeve or uneven hem, artistic greeting cards often made at get-togethers where participants share ideas and cut perfectly square corners.

I  thought an accomplishment was a learned skill that yielded an impressive product rather than an activity pursued for the pleasure of doing it. Though I backpacked in the Sierras every chance I had, I didn’t consider it a hobby. It was too much fun. I liked it when my legs stretched strong and my breath slid deep; I relished standing in the smell of pines to watch ridgelines march into the distance and a river tumble below. But the joyful experience yielded nothing I could enter in the country fair.

I learned that process is as rewarding as product from my mother, when she shared with me her passion for rescuing abused pieces of wooden furniture hidden under layers of paint. Working with her in the sunshine of my Nevada home, I scraped, sanded, stained, and oiled. Doing so, I realized that the smells, movements, and tactile experiences of the process pleased me as much as having a new, lovely piece of furniture.wooden chair

To this day, when I walk by something one of us refinished, I’m compelled to reach out and run my hand over it, an involuntary act of connection.

The synonyms for hobby — pastime, diversion, leisure pursuit — trivialize it. Hobbies satisfy my soul. When I’m immersed in one, I’m both Charlie Brown and Lucy: staying busy and accomplishing something — but with the added benefit of fulfillment. And I feel at one with potters, cooks, gardeners, skiers, kayakers, and photographers: all those who find completion in a process.