Trail Talk – September 2017

As the heat of another record-hot summer begins to abate in this season of the equinox, our feet yearn to revisit our trails within this forested landscape we call home. From early September until winter’s harsh grip sends us scampering to the coffee shops for warmer libations, the outdoors beckons our presence. And we are blessed with so many options for a day’s ‘walk in the woods’.

A recent conversation with a yeoman hiker in Ashland’s Watershed drove home the notion that one’s own backyard is the best place to commune with Nature. His observation that he lived close to the dozens of miles of trail above his hometown, and had no reason to get in his car to go hiking somewhere else, was an idea well-received. (If you haven’t treated yourself to some time on Ashland’s extensive trail system, please consider it the next time business takes you there. Well-maintained trails, many differentiated for hikers or bikers, wander through the watershed where extensive forest-management has created a well-groomed landscape, somewhat akin to the forests of Europe.)

Jacksonville’s public access woodlands are extensive, and should not be taken for granted. As a volunteer in Forest Park, I have the opportunity to speak with many visitors. And it might be surprising to many local folks how many times I’ve heard, “We’ve lived in this area for 10 years and had no idea this place even existed!” And many’s the time I’ve been on a run in the Woodlands closer to town and heard happy folks expressing themselves in languages from around the world, attesting to the universal appeal of getting oneself out into Nature whenever possible.

Recent jaunts through the High Cascades have served to keep my mind and body fresh and full of wonderment. Tackling 20-30 miles of trail with a light pack and an expectation to sleep wherever nightfall finds me, is a luxury to appreciate in the warm months. It’s unimaginable that the time on our legs while trekking through wilderness areas would do anything but encourage our kind and gentle spirits. These are not hours and days that pass us passively, these are days of joie de vivre, of our potential as sentient, curious organisms. Traveling light, eating light, always moving, making tracks…the siren song beckons. That cold water taken directly from the spring is the elixir of the wild places, finer than any vintage. The brilliant azure of the high-elevation sky is a blue without equal. A view from the next high place tells us of our place in it all. These are the gifts for the adventurer.

As Fall approaches with the promise of crisp leaves underfoot and crisp air in the lungs, we await the first soaking rains to settle the dust. We welcome that day when we have to remove our muddy shoes after our hike, or for the more adventurous, to wash the mud from between our toes after a barefoot hike or run celebrating the change of the season. Go there in the same way Coyote was going there, with a glint of mischief, fully attuned to opportunity, making tracks, making tracks.