I fish because I love to;
Because I love the environs where trout are found, which are invariably beautiful, and hate the environs where crowds of people are found, which are invariably ugly;
Thus begins one of my favorite poems, “The Testament of a Fisherman,” in which the poet, Robert Traver, (pen name of John D. Voelker, who served as a judge in Marquette, Michigan, in the Upper Peninsula) examines his love of fishing and says, “Because only in the woods can I find solitude without loneliness,” a phrase that echoes to my core.
During the past few weeks of the Covid 19 pandemic, in which I have been relegated to my home, my husband the only person I see on a daily basis, teaching a full load of classes online, and trying to be supportive of my students, family, and friends through these strange and scary times, hiking continues to be my solace. The woods have been my sanctuary for the last few years, trying to balance life as a new stepmom, rebuilding my career after moving during the recession, and facing other challenges that are all just part of life, but can seem fresh and crippling when applied to myself in particular.
And so I hope that Robert Traver will forgive me for using his poem as inspiration:
I hike because I love to;
Because it gives me a purpose when I might otherwise have none.
Because putting one foot in front of the other, looking out for roots that might trip me up, watching for the next blaze, and checking my map gently focuses me to what’s in front of me, instead of the worries of adulthood.
Because the trees are infinitely interesting, with their buds, rippled bark, and gnarled holes that might house a squirrel, porcupine, or an elf, in my imagination.
Because it is magical to hear the “hooo, hooo” of an owl or the yips of a nearby pack of coyotes while lying in my hammock, and comforting to behold the green velvet of moss pillows, the striated veins of wildflower petals, and the flow of burbling creeks as I make my way down the trail.
Because few people venture further than a mile or two from the trailhead, and I am allowed to witness wonders small and large that scarcely any will see. Those who are willing to make the journey are worth spending time with, and have become my closest friends.
And while hiking will probably never make me rich or famous, the meditation of meandering along a trail, the concentration needed in its various tasks, and the self-sufficiency of carrying all I need on my back cannot be found anywhere but in the woods.