Green moss. Rushing waters. Towering trees robed in pelts of lichen. Silver Falls State Park in Silverton, Oregon has it all, and this morning, all included emptiness. At 8 am, I has most chunks of the canyon trail to myself, and it was the perfect place for much-needed reflection.
This lush state park was a milestone for me. Not only did I get to hike behind waterfalls and cool myself off on hexagonal basalt formations, but I also hiked six miles (as a spring warm-up, ok?) by myself.
Hiking alone for the first time was rejuvinating. Or perhaps the more rejuvenating part was actually hiking after months spent in the Midwest. Either way, I drove to the South Falls, stuck my head under the tarp covering the pay station, and trekked to the path.
Immediately, the trail washed me in quiet and green light. Morning sun filtered through a sheet of grey clouds and further down through dense lichens and tree branches before settling on my shoulders. Something about this trail made me think of Poland–the Tatry Mountains are my favorite to hike, perhaps out of sentimental value, but also for the clear mountain streams. Accompanied only by the crunch of my boots against fine gravel, I made my way through trees.
Gradually, I found myself again. Being at peace, not thinking about work or school or even about writing. Lately, I’ve been driving myself mad with thoughts about failing, thoughts of how words are never enough for the beaty of the world, thoughts of how I am never enough for writing, that gluttonous beast. Finding the first fork in the trail only a few feet into the forest was euphoric. I heard the crush of water from the South Falls, and I needed to see its source. Fast. Skipping the signs, I ran over to the walll and peered down.
The South Falls are about 171 feet high, and a trail sneaks behind the feathery rushes of water, allowing hikers to experience what Frodo must have felt in Faramir’s hideout in Henneth Annun. Mist coatedmy glasses and wet my hair, and it may have actually plastered a semi-permanent smile to my face.
I haven’t felt such boundless joy as I felt today in months. Worry has bogged me down. I’m not sure where my life is heading, I feel out of place and rejected by every avenue of my desire, and I am, as I previously mentioned, afraid of being trapped. Maybe travel can’t fix everything, but it sure as hell can fix a lot. The 2,136 miles from here to home are giving me some clarity and room to breathe, even though I have only been gone three days. Most helpful, though, is nature, and being immersed in its peace alone helped me find something.
But find what? Direction? Myself? A corny poem buried deep in the far-reaches of my heart? Maybe all, maybe none. All I know is that for the five hours I spent alone in Silver Falls, I felt content, like I had found some piece of myself that went missing somewhere along the way this year. I started this blog as a joke–as a person who identifies with the student experience and loves being in school, graduation seemed terrifying. The reality I find myself with, however, is a fog akin to spells of vertigo used to plague me. There’s a haunting feeling of loss, a vague anxiety on the horizon. Since graduation, I’ve felt like someone’s leaning over my shoulder and whispering “hurry up!” just when I feel I can relax.
Hiking alone gave me the freedom to abandon this anxiety. It gave me the freedom to sing to myself on sections of vacant trail. It gave me freedome to be the sap for nature that I am and cry when I saw the South Falls. It gave me the freedom to skip along the trail smiling and take dumb selfies. Walking alone, I even found myself voicing imaginary conversations. I gave myself a break from the short story I’m working on (magical realism, something about the connection between grief and milk) and imagined myself into a poet again after two years of losing that life. Most importantly, I felt like myself again.
I’m writing this light-headed, driking a now-lukewarm chai latte in Vero Espresso House in Eugene, OR. The hike wore me out, using energy down to my bones, but emotional release can do that to a person. I’m taking this day as part of an ongoing lesson in giving yourself time. The reality of my life right now is that no one is sitting over my shoulder and telling me to hurry up. I have time to figure out what I’m doing, and I have time to make my plans work. A cliche to end with: it’s about the journey, not the destination. It’s about working your tired, heavy feet along the trail just to follow the river, just to see the next waterfall. It’s about resting flushed cheeks against a mossy tree and watching beetles forge through wildflowers. If I’m taking one thing away from this day, it’s this: the world isn’t so bad, you know.