In between the first step up and the home-made soup

Yesterday was a hiking day on the section of the A.T. that climbs “southbound” out of Duncannon over Cove Mountain, descending to Miller’s Gap Rd.  It was a very slow 8.5 miles.

One of the reasons I both enjoy and need to hike is that it is an activity that is wholly absorbing.  I must be attentive to where I am putting my feet, where I am placing my hiking poles, and the location of the next white blaze marking the trail.  This concentration was especially true for yesterday’s hike because a good portion of the trail was covered with rocks.  All the rocks make it harder to discern trail from mountain, hence the need for the white blazes.

If I was not vigilant, I found myself veering off the path on the rockiest stretches, or catching a pole in a crevice, or placing my foot on a wobbly stone threatening my balance. With all my focus on the simple task of walking, for a while the worries of the week behind and the week ahead fade away.

But there are other things to notice too: the last of the goldenrod, yellowing fern, a dead caterpillar attacked by ants, white-rimmed fungus, red Virginia creeper, a glossy brown centipede climbing through dead leaves.  I hear the occasional sound of farm equipment in the valley, a hawk cry, cedar waxwings in a thicket where trees have blown down, a woodpecker drilling over the ridge, squirrel chatter.  Mostly I notice the absence of noise and the fullness of trees.

In between the silences I sometimes hum a song, often a hymn, in rhythm with whatever pace I am trying to keep. I was struck yesterday by how the words of “Come, my Way” sounded so different out in these remote woods rather than in  its usual setting within a worship setting under a roof and behind walls.

Come, my Way

As I am picking my way among the rocks and white blazes, occasionally wandering from the path.

my Truth, my Life:
such a way as gives us breath;

     As I breathe in the air smelling of damp earth and pine needles.

such a truth as ends all strife;

     As the strife and pressures of the week’s responsibilities are laid down and left behind.

such a life as conquers death.

Out on the mountain I am more aware of creatures preparing for the winter and the fragility of life, the need for food, water and shelter to stave off death.

Come my light, my feast, my strength:
Such a light as shows a feast

I literally cannot walk out here without the daylight and am mindful I must be off the mountain before dusk.  And the feast?  Well, how about this view off of Hawk Rock, the silver Susquehanna winding through the mountains; the farm in browning fields, the scattered calls of black-capped chickadees.

Such a feast as mends in length;

This feast of walking out here does its mending and restoring, making me ready to go back to work—tomorrow, that is.

Such a strength as makes its guest.

I do need strength to hike like this and know that each year I am able to do it is a gift.  Already my body is aching.  But I am also aware, particularly on the trail, that I am a guest in God’s creation.  It is not mine, but it is here to be delightfully enjoyed.

Come my joy, my love, my heart:
Such a joy as none can move;

As my feet slip here and there and I must keep moving, I think about the constant presence of joy that runs deeper than the roots of this mountain, the Joy that doesn’t move.

Such a love as none can part;

Under these trees, I find myself praying for the people given me to love and am grateful for love received—the Love which is life itself.

Such a heart as joys in love.

And that is what inevitably happens to me on a hike—it gives me back a heart that joys in love. Gratitude.  Time to go back to a loving home, to work, but most immediately to my husband’s home-made chicken soup.

Hymn text:  George Herbert, 1593-1632; music;  Ralph Vaughn Williams, 1872-1958