Saturday, January 5th, 2019
Standing on the cusp.
There is a storm coming. For days Environment Canada has predicted precipitation and we have been in a state of Alert for 24 hours. The prediction continues to shift from possible rain to snow and back to rain again, and we are uncertain what will be hitting us. The day is grey and foggy and feels as if it can’t decide what to be. As the temperature hovers around the freezing mark, I set out for a hike before the weather comes.
This trail begins at a charming cafe that I have frequented before. I decide to do the hike and enjoy lunch upon my return, hoping that the meal will motivate me to get out and do this walk. In truth, I have been struggling with motivation as of late. While I have wanted to be in the woods, I have lacked the push to make that happen. I had thought that I would do many hikes over the holiday break, but when the time came, I chose to cloister myself in my studio, or spend time with my family instead. Perhaps it has been the lack of movement on this project that has me feeling disappointed, or perhaps the ever-constant physical stresses that seem to accompany each hike. I have virtually given up on the mandala, which is languishing on hike #10, and have convinced myself that no one, save my supportive partner, is reading this blog. No matter how often I tell myself that what matters is that I am doing this for myself, I keep feeling an underlying current of defeat.
So if bribery is what it takes to get me going, then bribery it is. I choose this hike today because it requires the least amount of effort on my part to get to it, as it is the closest to home. I also throw in lunch at the Bike and Bean Cafe once it is completed, to seal the deal. And with a storm on the horizon, I kick myself out the door this morning, knowing that later this afternoon things will get ugly.
The St. Margarets Bay Rails to Trails is designed for ATVers, skiers, casual walkers, runners and hikers. As I take my first step onto the trail I realise that the recent fluctuations in temperature, from melt to freeze and back again, have left this path icy. While the ATV tracks have created textured grooves to walk in, the sheer iciness of the ground means that no step feels safe. Trying to be positive, I decide that this is the perfect situation to try out my new Christmas crampons! I return to the car and pop open the trunk, only to realise that I have left the crampons in my bigger pack… which is currently sitting in the garage. So ice it is and ice it must be. I will simply have to find a way to manoeuvre along this terrain. I set back out, shuffling between the small patches of hard snow on either side of the tracks and in between. At times I am moving pitifully slowly, as I try not to fall. Grumble. This hike is going to take forever.
I am not in the right frame of mind to appreciate this hike. Like the weather, I can’t seem to decide how I feel or what I want. As I walk the trail, frustrated with the slow pace and need to be constantly changing where I am walking, I suspect that this feeling of dis-ease has been dogging me for several weeks. I am both happy and sad simultaneously. Curious and lethargic. Restless and enervated. This constant shifting between states of being has left me feeling as if I am stuck, unable to decide what I want. As I walk I try to clear my head and appreciate the surroundings and experience, but despite my efforts, I keep slipping… both mentally and physically.
This is a lovely trail that passes through wooded areas, along a river, through a bog and next to lakes. It should be a welcome respite after a challenging week filled with me returning to work after the holidays, trying to get back into a routine, and the emotional upheaval of my daughter returning to school in Ontario and the anniversary of my parents’ deaths. Instead, I feel as is I am both in and out of this experience- that it is both satisfying and unsatisfying, enjoyable and boring. It is not that I am hovering between two states but rather, that I am occupying both simultaneously. As I walk I find myself chilled, so I put on my mittens and zip up my jacket, only to notice a few minutes later that I am hot and starting to sweat. I remove the mittens and lower the zipper… only to realise shortly after that I am cold. The entire hike is spent in this Goldilocks-type dance, where I move from “too hard” to “too soft” and back again, never quite finding a comfortable place in between the two. This is proving far from the relaxed escape I had been hoping for.
All around me the trail itself is echoing these simultaneous states. The water on the trail is both frozen and not, so as I slip I am also getting wet. The lake is both solid and ice covered and melting around the edges. I am completely surrounded by woods, yet the highway is very nearby and noisy to distraction. This place feels peaceful in one moment, and then ATVs go by and I feel a rush of adrenaline and unsettled. Everything here feels both stable and risky. I am uncomfortable and unfocused the entire hike.
Not until I come to the river do I find something that is able to grab my attention and hold me in the moment. I stop and crouch down by its edge, enjoying how the water moves and the beauty of the ice and snow all around. I love rivers; that is something that I have discovered through this hiking project. They both meander and move aggressively, and as I look at the section in front of me, it appears smooth and calm, yet I can hear water rushing. Sitting here, I think about the changes in the river as it travels, and how its movement and energy changes dependent on its environment. As a whole, it occupies all ways of being simultaneously, yet in each section, at each moment, it is different.
As I contemplate this idea, I realise that I have become tired from trying to find one way to be; the constant shift between extremes is leaving me exhausted and unable to simply be “just right”. Fear of having to figure out where the balance is has me struggling with the idea of whether balance is even possible. Like walking this trail, the effort required to find stable footing- constantly shifting from ice to snow, always looking for the next step, searching for a safe path, and my fear of falling- has made me incapable of appreciating the moments or my surroundings. I enjoy the river and then return to the trail, hoping that with this clarity I can find some quiet and ease.
The entire hike is a slog, despite my revelation and the simplicity of the trail. I come to the turn-around point and see people out ice fishing on Round Lake. I take a few minutes to watch them, astonished that they are risking this on a day where pools of water are appearing on the surface of the ice and we are very much hovering in an ‘in between’ phase of weather. None of them seem at all concerned however, as they chat and fish. Some walk around and I soon realise that I am the one stressed about them being on the ice, not them. While I watch, no one falls through, nor do I hear the ice crack or notice anything unusual happening.
I head back with lots to think about. While the return walk/shuffle remains a challenge, I know that every step is getting me closer to hot coffee and a good meal. Eventually I start striding ahead confidently, not caring if I fall or get wet. Sometimes you simply have to work with what you are presented with, rather then spending your energy searching for balance.
Wisdom From the Trail:
- Shifting from one extreme to the other is exhausting. Sometimes however, the ideal balance simply isn’t possible and you have to make do with what you are presented with.
- As the sign above says, “Joy is inside you”. Whether it is joy or despair, we bring ourselves with us wherever we go.
- Never underestimate the lure of a treat at the end to help you get through. Sometimes we need to make things easier for ourselves and reward ourselves for even simple achievements.