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.