Missing the Forest for the Trees…

Blueberries and Rattle Snakes: Fear and Beauty on the Trails of Life

Less than four weeks away from my Mont Blanc adventure and I have been hitting the trails weekly, sometimes twice a week on strenuous back-to-back endurance hikes in order to acclimate my body to the rigors of daily climbing. I’m also working out daily. Whether it be running, yoga or Physique 57 classes, I want to insure I’m in the best cardiovascular shape possible to make trekking at high altitudes less of a challenge. Like all worthwhile endeavors, it’s not easy, but it is certainly rewarding. Not only do I notice the physical benefits of training, I have had the opportunity to see how every moment in life is a metaphor for life itself.

Whether in the woods or on the streets of New York City, there are roadblocks, detours and less than ideal conditions everywhere, both literal and metaphorical.  There are also our own thoughts and feelings to navigate, and which, if left unchecked, can get in the way of true happiness and the ability to see the beauty all around us.

On a recent Saturday afternoon, after mapping out a vigorous 9-mile solo hike, I awoke to rain and fog. I almost bailed until I realized that I would likely experience rainy days in the Alps, so I may as well get used to it. As I arrived in Tuxedo, NY, I encountered my second obstacle of the day: the road that would take me to the trailhead, was closed off to traffic. I panicked for an instant, but determined, I drove over to Seven Lakes Drive, parked at another trailhead, searched out a trail on my map and went on a different, and what turned out to be more difficult, hike instead.

As scenes from the movie Deliverance played through my mind, I set out alone on the isolated trail, my mind awash with all that could go wrong… Would I get a tick? Would I see a snake? Would I lose my way? The rocks that I had to navigate were slick from rain, so I worried I might fall and there would be no one around to help me. What would I do if I hurt myself? Would I scream? Or, recognizing the futility of that in the vast and seemingly empty woods, wait until someone came along and found me? On and on my mind whirled with every possible scenario of doom and gloom until I suddenly realized that I had not even noticed the sound of the rain falling gently on the trees and the way the forest was a luminescent green. My fears about what could happen were keeping me from enjoying what was actually happening. I was in the woods, the closest thing to church in my mind, alone, with a whole morning to explore and climb and challenge myself and, to be peaceful. There was nothing to fear except the thoughts I was generating with my own mind.

Hiking in Seven Lakes Drive, NY

It occurred to me then, that my anxious ruminations were not unlike the fears of life itself. In my experience, many of us get so caught up with all that could possibly go wrong in life that we miss out on the miracles and beauty that are all around us. Common concerns I hear from friends, family and my own head are: will I have enough to retire? Will I meet the love of my life? Will my kids have a good future? What if I get cancer? How well will I age? What if the economy tanks again (or better said, what if it never recovers)? These thoughts can be so pervasive and tenacious that you hardly recognize you are having them. And more importantly, these thoughts, are keeping you from experiencing the magic that exists in every moment.

Just the other day, as I was driving home through Tuxedo NY, I remembered that back in the 90’s when I was practicing pharmacy, there was a handsome gentleman that was my customer who lived in Tuxedo, whom I hadn’t thought of since. I wondered how he was all these years later. Then, just a few days later, while walking in midtown, I saw him! He seemed well and had aged, but then again, so had I. It was one of those moments where you realize that something (someone?) out there is paying attention and delivering proof of it all the time. Had I been preoccupied with thoughts of how hot the City is this time of the year, or why it is so friggin difficult to get a cab in midtown, or any of the other millions of things that I could possibly ruminate on, I would not have seen him. It was like magic and it reminded me that magical experiences are available to us in every moment. The question is, are we paying attention?

Old Cemetary in Tuxedo NY

Realizing that FDR was right when he said, the only thing to fear is fear itself, I stopped, on that rainy Saturday, to enjoy some wild blueberries from the bushes that cover Bear Mountain and saw a family of deer grazing nearby. I thought about how easy it must be to be an animal in the woods. No need to work or save money. No fear or understanding of weight gain, recessions, terrorist attacks, or aging gracefully. They just exist in peace. Until they become prey. But this is life, right? Sometimes you’re at peace and sometimes you’re in crisis and that is true of all animals, human and otherwise. Where animals have one-up on us is anticipation. We anticipate problems, creating anxiety and depression, and essentially ruining the time and the moments we have, whereas animals just exist in peace and tranquility until the danger is real.

In the end, I did get lost that day and just as I was about to despair, I came across a trio of hikers that kindly set me back on track. It’s amazing how things and people show up when you need them. That’s the magic of the Universe in action. It delivers everything you need, exactly as you need it.

On another hike, a week later, also alone, and just as I was stretching my arms out to the Universe in surrender for all that makes me happy and sad, allowing it to be because in the end it is all good, I suddenly heard the distinct rattle of a snake, sunning itself on a rock directly to my left. It was coiled and poised to lunge. I screamed and ran fast, laughing hysterically when I was safe, because in the end, the good and the bad exist side-by-side but worrying about either is futile. I also noted that the Universe has a wicked sense of humor.

Share Your Thoughts...

12 comments on “Missing the Forest for the Trees…

  1. Jon Sheppard

    Thanks for such a intuitive and inspiring blog Barbara. If more of us felt like you do, we’d be a much, much happier species !!! Looking forward to the Mont Blanc blogs 🙂

    Reply
  2. Poppy

    This post was so timely for me – I read it through twice just to soak in the essence of the beautiful and inspiring message. Thankyou so much Babara for sharing your insights, advice and knowledge…

    Reply
  3. Iraida Mendez

    When did you get to be so smart, so deep, so BEAUTIFUL? How can I thank God or the Universe for the gift of you?. We are the luckiest parents!!!. My love and respect, and admiration for you knows no boundaries!!!. Go to Mont Blanc, take it all in, and come back to us happy and well!!!. LOVE, MOM

    Reply
  4. MAGGIE

    DEAR BARBARA, THANK U SO MUCH FOR TO DAYS WO NDERFUL INSPIRATIONAL ARTICLE ! I MISS THE COUNTRY & ALL ITS BEAUTY ,
    LOOKING FOFWERD TO UR NEX HIKE. KEEP WELL.

    Reply
  5. sukey pett

    This is a terrific and inspiring post, Barbara. It is all too easy to forget to smell the roses, or eat the blueberries. Despite the fact that I live in a city, Milwaukee, it is very green and there are lots of wonderful critters around. I have a hummingbird feeder up and see her many times throughout the day. She is a source of magic and wonderment to me and the magic never dims. Sometimes, all we have to do is look – up, down or right in front of us.

    Reply
  6. Danielle Einhorn

    Dear Barbara Mendez,

    I have never written to you before, but I watch your videos and read your blogs. This blog hit me in another way then most. I am a huge believer in alternative medicine. I went to school for art therapy and I have a huge love for nature. (I currently make art…and nature is a huge them for me.) I love what you write and talk about.
    I went to Oregon at the end of this May and truly fell in love with hiking mountains. I always felt at peace in the greens of the forest or overlooking a breathtaking mountain range. I have been making a point to go as much as I can to different places with friends.
    As I mentioned I studied art therapy in school, I am also into mediation and mindfulness techniques. When you wrote about how situations or things in life can throw your mind off course and you forget to look around, it is so true. I just loved what you wrote and felt compelled to share it on my facebook page. I like how you reflected about your time in the woods and thinking about the animals. How you brought it back and related to civilization and how we live. It reminded me of the way I think when Im reflecting and traveling about. I would go into an adventure extremely excited or scared… if I’m scared I would think the worst things (exactly what you mentioned above too) or so excited and letting my mind accept everything around me so much more easily. But anything can honestly happen anywhere and you have to sit an observe or you will miss all the beauty and amazing experience (bumping into someone you have not seen that you would have never done)…and talking about the universe will give you what you need when its truly needed… we just need to be patient. also.. i would definitely jump and freak out from a rattle snack, that had me giggle, but yet again so true… the bad and good are inseparable and it all depends on the mindset and your choice of action.
    really great blog! i loved how much it spoke to me.
    Thank you for posting this 🙂

    Reply
    1. Barbara Mendez, RPh, MS Post author

      What a sweet note, Danielle! I am pleased to know you enjoyed the blog post and that it spoke to you…. I hope you have many opportunities to commune with nature as you make your way through various hikes… it is beautiful, peaceful and rejuvenating to be in the woods! Enjoy!
      B

      Reply

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