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Throwing yourself at nature

January 8, 2014

I know how fortunate I am, and how I have so much more to be thankful for than most people. I have a husband and a lovely house, and two loving young adult children. My cup is overflowing.

But it wasn’t always this way. In fact, I have spent much of my life alone. As a child, I played alone everyday after school, down in the ravine, in the marshes and bulrushes, among the muskrat and red-wing blackbirds. As an adult, I lived near a forest, almost always, and snowshoed alone in the winter, and hiked in the summer. I always had a large dog, so even in Vancouver, I would walk alone in the woods, every day for years.

The last 6 years, I have been not only alone but also single, and working with other single women friends. When the talk came around to internet dating and other ways to meet men, I was always interested, but skeptical and ultimately decided that it was undignified to simply throw oneself at a potential date or mate.

But one can always throw oneself at nature. That is allowed. So, I asked another single woman friend to become my hiking buddy, and we climbed the four North Shore Mountains last autumn. We climbed with gusto, but not with finesse. The first climb, we made it to the intermediate lookouts, and rounded the mountain, through the swamp and up the backside, clambering over roots and grabbing low branches, when we realized that the steady traffic that had been coming down in the opposite direction from us had stopped, and we were alone in the fading light, still headed up. We turned around and never did reach the peak of that mountain.

The next hike was a  no brainer, straight up a peak in plain sight of the parking spot. But we missed a crucial turn, and by the time we reached the top, and the stunning, most amazing view, we noticed that we were truly alone, no other hikers or tourists, and were now looking across the valley at the peak we had intended to climb. Oh well, beautiful anyway!

For the third peak we joined a hiking club of experienced, trail toughened and fit retirees, twenty years our senior. I had a difficult time keeping pace. When we came to a pretty alpine lake, the sweat rolling down my forehead tempted me to join the brave few who were taking a dip. I stripped to my underwear and put in a big toe. It is humiliating to admit that I did not actually go in. My gusto only went so far, and no further.

The last peak was attained with an old friend who had lived in Vancouver all her life, and knew where she was going. So, up and down, no problem.  But the rest of that fall and winter my hiking buddy and I set out on Saturday mornings and walked by the cold weather ocean around the university point. We treaded through the soft sand and bounced over wave-rounded rocks, clambering over fallen tree trunks, and through the bulrush trails. On Wreck Beach we sat down to eat our sandwich lunch and admire the beautiful and nature hardened bodies of the members of Vancouver’s winter nudist colony. This time I kept my clothes on. Then we would end the walk with a stiff climb up the stairs to the university, and tromp the last two miles home.

We dreamed of hiking in France, or in the Rockies, or some other exotic place, and this was just our training. But in April, on my last climb, I noticed that my fitness had deteriorated significantly. I was working hard and taking courses on Saturdays for 8 weeks, and hoping to recoup my  former fitness gains later. But two days after the last day of my Sat. course, I  was driven to the hospital emergency room and would not be able to walk across a room without help for another two months.

But here is the best part. Lying in my hospital bed, I had a view of those mountains, and I relived those climbs over and over. Even though, at the time, they were considered training for something more substantial, in retrospect, they were the real thing. We threw ourselves at nature, and it proved not to be a fickle lover. Nature may kill you, but it will not reject you. My special relationship with the woods kept me company during those long mornings in hospital, when you wake up at 6 for blood tests, and then you wait until 9 or 10 for the rest of the day to begin, and finally the late afternoon for visitors. Nature was my special companion during those weeks when I thought my life was ending. I revelled in it, and I understood the rhythm of growth and decay, of life and death, and new life. I understood myself to be a part of nature, of nature’s process.

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