Monday, June 28, 2010

You are Here.

The world is round and the place which may seem like the end may also be only the beginning. ~Ivy Baker Priest
Ellie and I hiked in the woods yesterday. Along the banks of the Elbow River, through trees and lush undergrowth. The sun was hot. The air still. The sky clear blue above us.

I walked. Ellie gamboled by my side. She doesn't like being leashed but we were in a Provincial Park and dogs must be on leash. It protects wildlife and flora, the sign said. I suppose it's true though the thought wandered through my mind as lazily as a leaf floating by on the river, "Who cleans up after the wildlife?" as I heeded the signs to 'clean up after your dog' and stooped to pick up evidence of Ellie's healthy digestive system at work.

We walked for a couple of hours. The quiet of the woods a soothing balm to my city spirit. I followed trails at random, forking left, then right. There were maps posted at every branch of the trail, I was sure I couldn't get lost.

I was wrong.

I can always get lost.

But the river's on my right. To get back to the car I just need to turn around and walk with it on my left.

But the river had forked and split in two. It was on both sides. I stood in front of a map posted on a wooden trail sign and tried to puzzle out its meaning. "They should mark which way the water flows," I thought as I stared at the Gold Star that meant, "You are Here". I knew where I was, I just didn't know where I was in context to where I wanted to go.

I turned my body around to read the map facing the opposite direction. It didn't make much difference. The river still meandered on either side of the place marked, "You are Here" and I still didn't know which way the river should flow and this particular point on the trail was completely engulfed in towering firs. I couldn't see the river anyway. I could only hear it like a distant fog horn calling through the mists of my confusion.

Where the heck is here in relation to where I left my car? I wondered.

Another hiker rounded the bend. His arms swung purposefully. His stride was long and confident.

Ellie, happy to see another human tugged at her leash. She barked. The man picked up his pace. "Good morning" he called as he gave us a wide berth and took the left fork in the path.

"Excuse me," I called to his quickly retreating back.

He slowed. Turned back to face me.

"I wonder if you could give me a little direction please?"

He walked back towards us. Tail wagging furiously, Ellie eagerly lunged towards him. Whining and shivering as she always does when someone 'stops' to pet her. He obliged. Rubbed her ears. Called her a good dog. She lapped it up.

"I parked at the west end of the park. If I take this trail," and I pointed to the opposite fork in the path than he had taken, "will that take me back to the parking lot?"

"Hell no," he laughed. "That's east. You gotta go that way. That's west."

I didn't want to tell him that 'that way' was the way I'd just come.

I smiled. "West? That way? When did they move it?"

He smiled back. Gave Ellie one more pat on the head and said, "They didn't." And with a wave of one hand he set off again.

I wanted to call after him, "It was just a joke!" I didn't want him telling the story over dinner that night about the ditsy woman hiker who thought they moved 'the west'.

And he was right. They hadn't moved the west. It was me who had lost her direction. After another hour or so, Ellie and I found the west parking lot. My car was still there. Everything was as I had left it.

The difference was in my perspective. I was never lost. Just walking in the wrong direction. It sometimes happens in life. We get turned around. Upside down. Inside out. Our eyes are looking the wrong way. Our mind is looking for the trail back to where we belong, only to discover we're looking in the wrong direction, away from our destination.

And then, a stranger comes along. Or a friend. And in the simple act of pointing us in the right direction, we find ourselves exactly where we are. We find our sense of direction and set out on the right path home.


katdish said...

Dang. Fantastic! I love this.

Joyce Wycoff said...

Thanks for the great quote and story. It reminded me of the poem "Lost" which I posted just now. I'm glad both of us are getting closer to "found."

Billy Coffey said...

This was the best thing I've read in a very, very long while.

Maureen said...

I can't help but think of "Wherever You Go, There You Are" by John Kabat-Zinn. It's a very good book.

Joyce posted a poem, "Lost" by David Wagoner, in response to your post. It's a very good poem.

And I have to ask: Would a man in your situation have done the same, stopped someone and asked directions?


Anonymous said...


perhaps for hiking - as in things cerebral, one needs a compass!


p.s. your LOVE, THAT MANY SPLENDORED THING piece is today's feature article on 360boom e-zine ...

S. Etole said...

I just love this ... probably because I've experienced the same thing with the little star! said...

Wow. you guys are writing about lost, and I am writing about feeling found... makes me think of that line from Amazing Grace: I once was lost, but now am found; was blind, but now I see...

Anne Lang Bundy said...

I've long thought that any spiritual battle is more about having the right perspective than anything else.

How artfully you've depicted that here!

Sandra Heska King said...

Really good insight! Really good.

But here's the thing. The whole time I was reading this, I was worried about you out on the trail alone. And then more concerned when the stranger man came along. I wonder how much fear gets in the way of adventure.

M.L. Gallagher said...

thanks everyone!

And Sandra -- there were moments when I did 'notice' the quiet and the solitude in a not safe feeling way.... Sometimes -- fear is lost when we step into adventure -- and what a great thing to lose. Plus, I got me this big dog who has a big bark which, as long as no one tests to see if her bark is worse than her bite, scares off predators of all kinds! :)