Most of my life I’ve figured that success depended on effort — a mixture of muscle and will. Now I think there’s more to effort than just those two things — faith, humor, and openness.
For a long time I taught writing to half of humanity and aspired to be a writer, but during those years I WAS a hiker. Hiking was the one thing I did no matter what. It had rewards of its own, and it belonged wholly to me. I was pretty proud of myself, too. I did it even when I worked nearly non-stop, and even when the weather was terrible (some of the best hikes). I was proud that I was so strong, so fit, so FAST up and down hills and I could go SO FAR in a short time (since I never had a long time). Endorphins streamed into my brain erasing the stress of my days, the pain of the darker moments of my life.
Then, as if fate had to teach me a lesson, I spent a decade in greater or lesser disability. Will and muscle kept me out there with my dogs, but I couldn’t go far — just COULDN’T — I couldn’t go fast and I couldn’t go up and down hills. I was on a flat, one mile loop trail through a landscape I once would have scorned.
A mile is pretty far if you can’t walk well and are in pain. It’s ALSO an analgesic. Walking — sauntering — around the trail or along the river, stopping often for Bear to smell things, to look at something gave me a different experience that had nothing to do with muscle or will. My effort was, instead, overcoming my expectations of myself and opening my heart to a new experience. This wasn’t hiking as I’d known it. I’d always been aware of everything around me, that wasn’t the change, but no longer concerned with covering miles, I could wait as long as it took a mule deer doe to realize I was watching her. It could be a while.
This kind of hiking went on so long that its sweet moments — the purring of a flock of Sandhill cranes above me, a bald eagle in a bare cottonwood, a bluebird on a fence post, deer in the distance — ceased being compensation for what I could not do but reasons for being out there.
I will never be the hiker I used to be even if, someday, I can again cover four miles in an hour.
There have been times since I got the skis that I’ve felt trepidation about going out. I can see with my rational mind that there’s no reason for me to be afraid, but I have felt afraid. I know it’s psychic residue from the years of diminished ability and pain. In those times it’s taken faith in myself and abilities to go out there. Will and muscle are called into play — again — and I go. As I ski — not all that well yet — I learn that I CAN navigate a curve or speed through an icy patch rather than slowing nearly to a stop and proceeding hesitantly. I feel myself regaining skills I once had. As that happens, trepidation begins to be replaced by confidence and joy. Endorphins.
Yesterday I was waiting for my friend to arrive from Colorado Springs. I knew when she’d left home, but I wasn’t sure exactly when she’d arrive. After I walked Bear and let her run and dive through snow drifts while I walked fast (she thought I was running), I thought, “I think I have time.” The day was perfect. Calm wind. High 20s. We’ve had no thaw to molest the snow or the tracks, and it’s been warm enough that the surface hasn’t been an ice rink.
So…I got out there, tried a different direction (to see how my shorter leg would work on the curves going clockwise). With my mind on the clock, I skied faster and more confidently. I saw that I am getting better at this. I came home, turned on the radio, and it was playing my anthem.
I was so happy.