Work brought me to Oregon. Its beautiful scenery kept me there a little longer.
I’m fortunate enough to have an old friend who runs a summer camp out on the edge of the Oregon coast, and it’s always nice to know someone from an area you’re visiting because they’ll know all the best go-tos. In Troy’s case, it was a large chunk of Forest Park – some of which he’d explored, some of which he hadn’t – and on the rare occasion that Troy and I are within the same hundred miles and actually have free time, hiking (equal parts walking as it is talking) is probably one of our favorite things to do.
I told Troy before we got to Forest Park that I was unsure of my hiking skills – anything too strenuous might not work all that well for me. Troy did what he does best in offering some reassurances, and as we began walking, I couldn’t decide if he’d slowed his pace to my advantage or if he just had one of those grandfatherly paces that feels more like a stroll than a hike. You might even call it ‘sauntering.’ It was a pace and a hike made for listening and, at the same time, for voicing something honest.
Maybe I’m just always in a hurry or something – y’know, never stop to smell the daisies anymore, but usually when I hike alone, I tire myself out too quickly. Had I gone at my normal pace, I would’ve been breathing heavily and probably on the verge of tears having to stop constantly. Maybe it was the calm, relaxed pace that made some pretty steep hills easy to endure; I was grateful to Troy for that.
It may have also been that jarring scenery that was so much to take in, you were too in awe to be tired or to notice any joint pains from steep hiking.
The Oregon forest isn’t really like many forests I’ve seen before. I’m so used to the brown and dead leaves – oaks and maples – of a Tennessee ‘woods.’ Oregon, by contrast, doesn’t really even have brown bark that you would notice; it’s all just shades of green – a moss that blankets almost everything, the green offering of shade above, the ferns hovering just above the ground. It’s a kind of holy jungle where everything, absolutely everything, has been enveloped by this grand plan to claim and conquer every nook and cranny of this world from forest floor to canopy. And yet, despite this take-over, this particular claim of land is calming and in no way hostile.
I remarked to Troy something I felt like I should have noticed on other hikes – that here, there is life teeming with life. It’s more than that, though. Death in the usual sense that we think of death seems somehow missing here. Life grabs hold of what’s dying and before it can even fully pass on, it’s gifted new purpose in the making of something unexpected. That old collapsed tree just there is home to bugs and chipmunk and bird who thrive off what once was and still is – now making use of its vertical incline instead of the horizontal one it was before this. Can we really say the tree ever died? Its purpose merely shifted. It still ticks-and-tocks even if the clock doesn’t belong to it, if it ever did. In some ways, even, it comes to serve a purpose it never could have had it remained towering above, a tree of some stature. What once provided necessary shade is now shaded and surrounded by old friends. The canopy, it turns out, is not the only place offering grace to the millions of little creatures below. Even the rotting roots and bark are as life-giving and life-sustaining as what happens above. It’s that old circle of life, and it’s happening here so quickly that it’s hard to tell the beginning from the end.
And I think my conversation with Troy, as conversations with Troy often do, kind of echoed what was happening on our hike, what we were seeing and experiencing here in this West coast rain forest. Sometimes, I think, it’s so easy to point and look over our lives as though they are defined by this or that event or choice we made or someone made for us. What if, instead, the one most graceful and loving thing we were ever gifted was the reality that we get to be good to ourselves and others, every distinct moment, however it’s experienced and however we choose to allow and make room for that to be possible. Or to run with the metaphor: we don’t always get to live up in the canopy; sometimes, we belong down in the dirt, too. There is life abundant in both of those realities. There is belonging abundant in both of those realities. The question isn’t really whether we are meant for here or there but what can we do to make ourselves belong and accept ourselves no matter where we end up, especially when every place we go is teeming with life and with opportunity. Our lives are not defined by the place we are in as much as they are defined by what we’re willing to do with where we find ourselves in this moment as much as the next.
Sometimes, though, you just have to keep hiking until you walk into where you know you should be. Until you realize that the hike was where you were supposed to be all along.