One can cover a lot of beautiful ground by following a well-worn trail, a path countless feet have beaten down, smoothed and deepened. But there is sometimes something in my heart not quite satisfied with simply following a trail – being bound by miles or hours, not knowing what is over this hill, or what the view looks like from the ridge above. There is something to not following a trail, giving oneself permission to stray to the side, to discovered unseen vistas, or subtle deer trails. There is something delightful about taking the long way around, of creating detours and following one’s sense of curiosity, and allowing oneself to revel in the beauty of the outdoors.
Sometimes that giving in to curiosity and delight comes with simply changing one’s vantage point. Walking along a ravine floor is a completely different view than walking along the rim. The enchantment of rising granite steps, moss covered, and slanting shadows and cool, green lichen contrasts with the beauty of the open sky, the rolling hills, quivering rabbitbrush, and the treelines. A ravine followed from top to bottom, with 5-foot ledges to scramble, looks wholly different when followed from bottom to top. The 5-foot ledges become a different sort of obstacle, when scrambling up instead of down.
A trail taken in the morning, when the air is cool and warming, when frost and dew shimmer in the grass, when the trees are singing with early birds, when the air in the sheltered valleys is damp and cool and rich, yet warm and fragrant on the sunlit hillsides above – it is entirely other than walking the trail in the afternoon or evening, when the birds have quieted, when the dew of morning has been replaced by the frost of evening, when quiet and hush have settled.
In the morning hours, the chickadees and bluebirds were talking to themselves and flitting from branch to shrub to rock. The bluebirds were like little pieces of sky, so bright and blue. And the chickadees, feisty little masked things, were darting and diving in a ravine, drinking ice melt from a little green pool. I clambered up on the ledge and tried quietly to take out my camera. They watched me curiously or indignantly, I wasn’t entirely sure which, and let me take their pictures before disappearing, their little hoarse, laughing calls disappearing with them.
Taking the time to chase down sunbeams on birchbark. Chatting with a sassy squirrel. Watching migrating flocks of geese. Wondering at ancient trees, wizened and hunchbacked. Slipping and sliding down slopes covered in pine needles and loose rocks, crawling up ledges, ducking under deadfall, plunging into the shadow of the trees, where light filters through the deep green needles and glows and flickers on the bark, the earth, and snow white pieces of quartz – They say to take the path of least resistance. But sometimes the path of more resistance is a lot more rewarding. Giving in to the delight of curiosity, straying from the beaten trail, lingering to watch and listen and breathe deeply of the air. Halted by awe. Driven by a question: What’s next?