“Not all those who wander are lost.” J.R.R Tolkien
This ubiquitous quote remains one of my favorites because I identify with it so much–indeed I wander to find myself. I usually feel far from lost while on a trail or not (except this one time in Utah when the sun was getting low, and we could not find our camp site after a post-dinner walkabout). With a decent map and a fair sense of direction (and the help of today’s technology) getting truly lost can be fairly difficult. As far as hiking goes, I am quick to qualify many wanderings and walks as hikes. If I’m wearing hiking boots, walk on trails away from a roadway or take more than 30 minutes, my walk becomes a hike. It turns out I take lots of hikes!
I hike with and without friends, but I almost always have my dog and baby with me. They are my biggest motivators to actually go out and get these hikes hiked! I love hiking during the holiday season for many reasons: first and foremost I really like to eat, and I’m not very willing to cut back on my helpings…so I hike off the calories before and/or after I pig out! While upping my ability to consume more calories is pretty incredible, there are still other–probably more important–reasons I like to explore on foot.
We were very fortunate to have an extended fall this year while many others throughout the United States have been living in the white stuff for several weeks. Fall is usually quick and wet here followed by howling winds and whipping snow…but it was different this year. The rains were not monsoon-like and the winds have been few and far between. All of October and much of November were mild and sunny—perfect hiking weather.
Really, what weather isn’t good for hiking? Cold Rain is bad, as are terrible winds and white out snow conditions. Then again, what activities are good in those types of weather? Reading and drinking cocoa are the best options that come to mind. Hiking can and should be done in all the other types of weather–hot or cold, dry or damp, still or breezy. I guess too much snow can also be a major hindrance. I remember a woodland hike with a friend a few years ago where we ended up slogging and post-holing through thigh high snow (we ended up crawling a fair amount of the way), wondering if we would ever make it out of the woods–why didn’t we bring snow shoes?!
Each season brings its own best kind of hiking–the morning cold of spring and fall makes otherwise sloppy trails frozen and lovely, the long days of summer make the long haul multi-hour hikes possible, and the scarceness of winter makes otherwise overgrown trails much easier to navigate.
Throughout the summer, my friend Mimi over at Brown Dog Farm and I were “Hiking Buddies” which I originally misheard as “Hugging Buddies” when Mimi proposed this label for our Monday hikes. We are pretty good hugging buddies, and we did some fun hikes this summer—scaling some mountains, meandering on old railroad tracks and tromping through the forest. After Mimi left for the winter I was kind of lame and didn’t go on many hikes for a couple of weeks. Since the farming season is over this means that I spent WAY too much time inside–not a good thing for any Farmgirl.
It is very noticeable when we don’t get outside enough. Moki, our dog, drives me nuts and turns into a “bad” dog barking and chasing things; Ava gets bored with her toys and a bit clingy; and I get anxious about silly things. So, I try to get out on at least a little walk at least 4 times per week. I strap Ava on my back in a baby carrier and we walk with friends or solo in different parks and on various trails. I’m usually gone for about an hour. Ava falls asleep to the rhythm of walking, and Moki runs many times the distance that I end up traveling as she runs up and down the trail, weaving back and forth through trees and brush. Getting out in the woods or the mountains is a kind of meditation for me. It clears my head. It helps me appreciate what is important and disregard that which is not.
It just snowed here for the first time right before Thanksgiving, and it has been snowing fairly consistently ever since, giving us about ten inches of fluffy, sparkly snow on everything. Ava, Moki and I went on a hike at Spring Creek Farm (the first farm I worked on in AK) in the softly falling flakes. Moki showed me her agility by taking flying leaps onto large bales of hay, and Ava snoozed under a hood so snow wouldn’t melt into her cute little snow suit. One of my favorite things to do is be the first to break trail after a fresh snow fall. For many of the trails on the farm, this is necessary because after too many snowfalls the trails will be indiscernible until spring reveals their paths once again.
While hiking clears my mind and helps organize thoughts, I also enjoy how it familiarizes one with the land. I’ve hiked some trails dozens and dozens of times in all seasons and all times of the day. In doing this, I’ve been able to observe the land and take note of how it changes from month to month and year to year. In scientific terms, this is called phenology, and it was used by great environmentalists like Aldo Leopold and Rachel Carson to record shifts in weather patterns and animal behaviors. I like to think I’m following in their footsteps by taking mental notes of the places I love most. One thing I’ve noted this year is how low the water is everywhere–the fen I love to walk on in the winter and examine the frozen creatures through crystal clear ice is super dry, it almost looks like a hay field. The “skating pond” we found a couple of years ago is just a dried up frozen puddle. I wonder what this means for the coming spring? Will it be drier than usual as the ground thaws? Will we be able to till the fields earlier?
Even as the snow accumulates and the skis, skates and snowshoes come out, sometimes it’s so nice to just be able to go out and enjoy nature without loads of equipment. As a nod to Thanksgiving, I am so grateful to have a healthy body and mind that allow me to enjoy the world on foot.
Are you a wandering walker? Do you hike, tromp, meander or amble? How do you incorporate these activities into the few short hours of daylight that this sometimes stressful holiday season brings us?
Until next time, Happy Trails!
Sending peace and love from AK,
Alex, your Rural Farmgirl