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Life lessons from hiking

Monday, August 24th, 2009

As inspired by a solo-hiking trip in East Tennessee on Saturday.

When you come to a fork in the road, and one sign points to “scenic overlook” and the other points to “short cut,” take the short cut.  There’s a chance that the scenic overlook will be spectacular – but then again, it may just result in losing the path altogether and wandering around the woods completely discombobulated.

Being alone may sound like a great idea, but when the going gets tough, you will be thankful to run across other people – even if they are burly, camo-clad men named Frank and Jackie.

Double-check.  When the trail is called a “loop,” it might actually be a straight path in for miles, with a small loop at the end – like a balloon.  Or, in my case, a noose.

A white tank top is either wet or dry – there is no in between.  If it looks like it might rain, err on the side of caution.

There will be spiders.  There will be cuss words.  And sometimes you will face-plant.


Wednesday, October 1st, 2008

I go on walks – long walks – pretty much every day, sometimes multiple times a day, sometimes alone late at night. (I know. Just… I know. I shouldn’t do it. I know.) Recently on these walks, I have seen:

Twin Old Ladies

Y’all. I’m not EVEN kidding. There they were, up ahead of me, in… can it be?… matching plaid shirts? Matching shorts? Identical shoes and ankle socks? Synchronized strides with their EXACT SAME little calves? When I caught up with them, I asked them if they were twins. They turned their faces to me, and IT WAS THE SAME WOMAN, DUPLICATED. Indistinguishable. They told me – in very sweet Southern accents, no less – that they live together, and work together, and have done everything side-by-side their entire lives. It was cute.

Also, weird.

But really, cute. Endearing. Unexpected.

However, maybe not as unexpected as…

A coyote

I know. You want to tell me, “Annie, it was just a dog.”

But I’m sorry. What kind of house-pup looks like this?

This was no little desert coyote, either. It was a very large, muscular, FOREST coyote, emerging at dusk from the dark bushes and freezing at the sight of Julie and me. We just kept walking, and it ran in the other direction. But honestly. Cockroaches? Possums? COYOTES? My urban oasis is being overrun with life-threatening disturbances.

Keep an eye on your ferrets, Nashville.

Climb every mountain

Friday, June 8th, 2007

With the recent purchase of both new hiking boots AND new running shoes, I woke up this morning not sure which pair I should break in today. But then I remembered my CamelBak that was also waiting to be inaugurated, and since I love that oh-so-satisfactory click it makes when the mouthpiece magnetically sticks to the chest strap, my decision was made.

I drove to Mt. Si this morning, ready to conquer the mountain by myself. If hiking alone sounds like the beginnings of a bad nightly news story, you’re probably right. Even I had visions of a creepy man stepping from the woods onto the trail all Ethan-style, ready to whisk me to a shack in the woods to perform weird experiments on me. But luckily, Mt. Si is the equivalent of Green Lake on an incline, and so there were plenty of fellow hikers and trail dogs.

Given that three of my top five worst fears are a) falling from high heights, b) chipping a tooth in the process, and c) being eaten by a bear (and to be honest, I don’t know what the other top two fears would be – those three pretty well encompass my greatest fears), the outdoors might sound like the last place that I should spend time. And indeed: as a child, I was a lazy bum and the anti-outdoorsman (much to the chagrin of my hiker parents), preferring the comfort of my own bed and access to a VCR over dirt and pain (yes, dirt and pain). But in recent years, I have turned over a new leaf, and have been spending more and more time in the wilderness. Hiking, backpacking, camping, I do it all. And I even have the gear to prove it. I am strong and have endurance and don’t even have asthma attacks. I put the “active” in “attractive.”

Um. Right.

When I’m honest? Perfectly honest? My attitude toward the outdoors hasn’t exactly changed. I still cannot stand blackened toenails, sunburns, peeing in the woods, bugs and vermin. I hate feeling dirty, and that gross salty residue that is left behind after sweating. I hike not to commune with nature. I hike with high, futile hopes of my tush standing at attention.

And so this morning, I practically sprinted the 4-miles up the mountain, never letting anyone pass me, but me doing the passing. I was the passer in this operation. I broke a cardinal rule of those nature-loving hikers, and listened to my iPod the whole time – country songs about one-night stands (We ain’t done nothing wrong, we’ve just been lonely too long…). Even with my new boots, my left heel was ground into hamburger (that pesky size 8 foot), and required some serious tender-loving care at the summit.

But you know? The summit was beautiful. Thousands of feet higher than when I started, the clouds were rolling away like an ocean tide, and all was peaceful. And even as I killed the ants and threw rocks at the chipmunks to keep them away from my gouda and crackers, I was glad that I am a hiker. Maybe this nature thing isn’t too bad after all.