When you meet people on a hiking trail there is an instant bond between humans who appreciate the experience of nature. We share a special sort of secret smile as we share the great outdoors with each other, separately yet, together. We don’t need to get into a long conversation about transcendentalism or John Muir. You just know these are your people. These are people who get it. They may be new to hiking and if they are they will be one of us by the end of it.
Today we hiked the West Fork of Oak Creek Canyon, a short, easy hike with a lot of hikers on the trail which crosses Oak Creek in several places where the adventurous or youthful at heart have the splendid opportunity to splash around in the creek. Today the temperature was perfect for a hike and the water temperature was just right too. Cool but not too cold.
While I tried to keep her on the main trail, my partner was eager to try out her new water proof sandals. Ok, so sandals cannot be waterproof. They were just made for the water. I, on the other hand wore typical hiking boots with thick socks, but the kid in me really wanted to get them wet so I followed her right into the middle of the creek delicately sliding on slimy, algae covered rocks and leaning on my walking stick fully aware of my smart phone in my back pocket. Finally, we made it back to the trail and I hobbled along making music with the stomp and squish of my footsteps combined with the tap of my walking stick. “Stomp, squish, tap. Stomp, squish, tap. Stomp, squish, tap.”
Eventually, we got hungry and stopped at a log and a rock to eat the lunch we packed. Chris dropped a cracker on the ground and said, “Ten second rule applies, right?” I replied, “Well, the dirt is probably cleaner then the floor in our house so go ahead.” She did just as some other hikers passed by amused by the conversation they overheard. We giggled a little then sat in silence as we began to realize how badly our muscles needed the rest and our stomachs needed the nourishment. As I began to notice my aching body, Chris rustled a wrapper from her granola bar and pointed behind us where a very skinny deer eagerly grazed to prepare for the rapidly approaching winter. It was a particularly lush section of the trail. I noticed that when we sat down and with the deer lifting her head occasionally to watch us eat as we watched her eat, a magical feeling came over me. A family with young children was hushed as they approached us and we pointed out the deer. Cameras clicked as we silently bonded with perfect strangers who marveled at the unexpected wild creature.
At the end of the trail, people sat on the red rocks by the creek enjoying the cool weather and peaceful sound of the trickling creek. We paid homage to the Earth for giving us this opportunity to experience her genuine nature. The Earth is always honest with us. Jagged rocks, uprooted trees, and starving wildlife all tell the story of the hazards of nature. But, on a day like today we experience the peaceful calm that nature has to offer all the while hinting at the vulnerability of life, giving us an appreciation of how lucky we are to experience this place, at this time, in this way, with these particular people who happen to be on the trail with us today. People on the trail share a bond which cannot be explained. We develop an appreciation of how the Earth puts our miniscule, little lives into perspective. The Earth is a big place with an abundance of life. How lucky we are to experience her magic.