Before returning to the states, I spent a decent amount of time contemplating how to keep my love affair with the world going, even after I returned “home.” I remain loathe to give up the joy of new sights, tastes, and sounds. Mostly, I crave the feeling of openness and curiosity that being surrounded by the unfamiliar breeds in me.
A million self help books and the magazine rack at your local grocery will tell you that the key to any good love affair is to make the familiar new and exciting. Since the only thing I loathe more than giving up my travels is a self help book, I’m challenged with viewing this amazing island that covers under 58 square miles, on which I’ve been spending time for 38 years, with new eyes. It’s the equivalent of a being 40 years in to an uneventful marriage with the world’s most peaceful, beautiful spouse, whose calm can lull you into doing. Absolutely. Nothing.
While contemplating this (which, you may have figured out by now if you are following me on Facebook, resulted in buying a plane ticket to Spain for a month), I remembered a time when I created something totally unfamiliar out of my favorite hiking spot on the island, almost by accident. Sort of.
On Thanksgiving weekend 2007, I ran away from Texas to refamiliarize myself with the smell of trees and the feel of air that hasn’t been sucking cement. My second day on Orcas, I headed to Mountain Lake, a four-mile trail I know like the back of my hand, since I’ve been traveling it almost as long as I’ve known how to walk.
It was 4:30 when I parked my car and headed out on the pine-covered path. Just over one mile later, I realized how quickly I was losing light. I took a moment to think about what I was doing. The brook that runs down from Twin Lakes in the wet seasons, barely trickling by August, poured vigorously beneath the little wooden bridge on which I stood. While contemplating the pros and cons of continuing in the fading light, I inhaled air that froze the hair inside my nostrils. The weather forecasted an early snow.
On the pro side: completing the lake loop. I hate not finishing things. In the last 25 years, I’ve failed to finish only one book. Actually, I didn’t fail; I refused to finish it because it was so unbearably bad it constantly made me think of all the other books I could be reading. The disappointment – by an author whose work I had devoured voraciously for years – was so depressing, I donated the book to the library so I wouldn’t have to look at it on my shelf.
Also on the pro side: No predators (unless the squirrels had gone rabid since summer). Trail I know blindfolded. How cold could it REALLY get near a lake that doesn’t freeze? Potential for adventure.
The cons? Potential for frostbite, but a finger or pinky-toe lost for the sake of adventure seems a small price to pay.
Note to self: creating an adventure of the familiar should take place within bounds of reason. Like any adventure, there is a risk-reward equation at play. When the territory is this familiar and the adventure seems this….risky, the equation may be out of balance. Dark +potential for snow + no headlamp….
Not surprisingly, something went awry. Another mile or two down the path, my pace slowing to a shuffle as I became unable to see my feet, I suddenly found myself off the trail and trapped in place by a fallen tree trunk that appeared out of nowhere. I started to panic, almost peed my pants, and came back to my senses quickly enough to remember how blissfully short my cons list had been. I would be safe enough by daylight, as long as I didn’t get bored to insanity, since it was pitch black, freezing cold, and more than twelve hours until the sun rose again.
In one of the more embarrassing and least adventuresome episodes of my life, I committed to two hard and fast rules of being lost in cold, dark woods: (1) don’t wander (it makes you harder to find) and (2) move constantly to keep your blood flowing. For the visually oriented, picture Jane Fonda aerobic warm up steps in fleece pants, long-sleeved shirt, gortex shell, and running shoes.
To these rules, I added a Hail Mary: I yelled for help. Meekly at first, and then with more force, though I felt ridiculous since I wasn’t injured or near death. I modified my cry by turning it into a request, addressing the recipient as, “Mr Park Ranger,” and adding, “please,” to the plea that he come to my assistance. It sounded completely bizarre – almost as if I were hearing someone else doing it, and I wanted to go to her aid.
Miraculously, the state park service had funded a ranger this particular winter, and when he came back from town, he saw my car and came after me with a flashlight and headlamp. He was none-too-happy about it, and I couldn’t have been more the opposite, which made for a chirpy monologue on the way back to my car, and a one-sided hug once I arrived.
So I can’t advocate adventure in the familiar, but even in the ‘know-em-like-the-back-of-your-hand’ places, there is endless possibility for the unfamiliar. Rather than stick with the same lake loop, last week I hiked on a trail I haven’t touched in ten years. I went to dinner at a brew pub that’s been around for two years, and I’ve yet to set foot in it. It isn’t simple familiarity that ruins us – it’s invariable patterning of our lives that blinds us to things that may be always here, and never noticed. If we just change our trail, we can open our minds and hearts as widely as if we traveled the world.