Up until a month ago, I rarely walked near my house. Because I work in a city ten miles away from my home, and our local traffic is congested, I have developed the habit of leaving for work when the traffic is lighter, an hour ahead of time, driving to a park near my workplace, and walking there each morning. For five years, it has been a good system. I love the park trails I rotate between, but when we were told to stay home a little over a month ago, that pattern, along with many of the other lifestyle patterns I had formed, was thrown into disarray.
Besides the convenience of walking near my workplace, there were other reasons I haven’t made a habit of walking near my home. The first reason is the big hill. Our house backs up to a trail and green space owned by the power company, but the first thing you encounter when you reach it from our backyard is long, steep hill. The view from the top is beautiful—the Cascades in one direction and, after a little more hill and a little more walking, the Olympics become visible in the other direction. When we first moved here, I pictured myself walking up that hill every day—maybe twice a day even— to see the sunrise and sunset. That daily habit never developed. The hill was too strenuous, not conducive to a leisurely morning walk. It was more of a workout. And then, a month ago, we found ourselves in the middle of a pandemic, with staying at home the moral and loving choice.
I was wedded to my morning walks by this time. It has become a meditative time for me, a form of quiet time with God on the days I walk alone and a time of connection with friends on days I walk with others. But, this was all changed now. Driving somewhere to walk might be allowable, but it wasn’t ideal. I looked at what my neighborhood had to offer. Our immediate neighborhood is a cul-de-sac that empties onto a rather uninteresting thoroughfare. So, for me, the most appealing choice by far was the trail up the hill. One morning, early, I headed out the back door toward the great, energy-draining, intimidating incline. Too often I had climbed that hill with those whose legs were longer and whose pace was quicker than mine. This day, I told myself a leisurely walk up the hill was okay. And it was. If I started to gasp for air, I slowed down. I gave myself permission to notice the ferns, the rabbits, the mountains, the trees. And when I got to the top of the hill, I had enough energy and motivation to inch a little way down the steep backside of the hill…and discovered trails I had never been on before. I have lived in this neighborhood for 16 years and had never even known they existed. They meandered through trees, bleeding heart, ferns, huckleberries. From a couple of spots, there was a peekaboo view of the Olympics. The longest trail traversed the ridge for two miles. Down below, there were houses in view, but there was also a surprising seclusion and peace in this place. And it was literally out my back door.
It has made me rethink of how often I go off somewhere else to find something that I never think to look for closer to home. What relationships, resources, and beauties right in front of me am I ignoring as I pursue ones further afield that seem more exotic? How far do I go find something that a bit of work would yield right in my backyard? I won’t quit driving to the mountains to get my fill of alpine flowers and wilderness trails, but what about where I live? What is there that I never see because it isn’t exactly what I think I am looking for. What hills seem unsurmountable or at least not worth the effort to climb? And if I make the effort to look, what surprises might I find?