I hiked like a hobbit on Sunday. Barefoot. There wasn’t really any one reason why… I’d heard many times about the benefits of direct contact with the earth, it was hot, my socks were itching me… it happened about 200 feet in or so, I guess. I stopped for a drink of water and noticed that just in front of me the trail opened into a lovely little clearing of sorts, thick with new, green grass. The perfect place to touch the earth.
So I took off my shoes, tied them together and took my first tentative steps. The feeling was sensational. I couldn’t help the smile that split my face. I felt like a child again, relishing in the delicate tickle of the new green blades and the cool firmness of the moist earth. The sun was on my skin, the air was perfumed by pine sap, and I was sensing the earth beneath me in delightful way.
I had planned to put my shoes on just on the other side of the clearing where the trail rose again, rocks jutting out of the shadows the trees had spread all over the hillside. But I didn’t really want to. So I kept hiking. An hour and a half later I was back at my car with very dirty feet and a very full heart. And a short list of lessons I learned along the way.
- Sometimes cow poo really is the best place to step. Fortunately the ‘pies’ I found were appropriately dry, mostly just a crust of dirt over the sharper edges of the little rocks I was trying to avoid. Still, in those moments when my feet had been pricked just a few too many times over the last couple of minutes, that crusty cow pie was a welcome reprieve. It made me consider the possibility that sometimes, when life had beaten us up a bit, even a pile of poo can be a nice change, if only we can look at it that way. After all, life often also affords us puddles in which to rinse our feet.
- The shadows are actually rather nice. Every time I came to a section of trail that had been laid over by the shadows of Black Hills Pine and Spruce, I discovered those were also the places where the new life was really unfurling. The earth there was cooler, the grasses softer, the moss thicker. There is a beautiful reason we have sunlight and we have shadow – I want to practice appreciating the shadows too.
- When the path gets rocky, it forces focus. You have to start paying attention to every step, you have to look ahead and really decide where you want to go. When life gets hard, it might be time to slow down, and consider carefully the next best step.
- You get to decide. Yes, I saw the barbed pine cones scattered all over the path, several kinds of thorny thistles and other pain-inspiring plant life. But I chose not to step on them. Of course those things were part of my reality, but I got to decide how. Those elements of my experience were certainly a part of it, but only visually. I chose not to feel them on my feet. We can choose to see and feel the good and positive in our lives without feeling the barbs and thistles… even though we know they’re there.
- Even big green fields of grass have prickly things in them. Once in awhile, even when I was enjoying the luxurious feel of a nice grassy clearing, I’d be surprised by the prick of a stiff piece of grass. It only lasted a fraction of a second though, and it made the next soft step that much nicer. Even when we think we’ve got life “made” there will be prickly things. But they’re almost always temporary, and we almost always get to take another soft step somewhere down the path.
- THE path, is not always my path (or your path). I had gotten through a particularly rough portion of the path and was nearly back to the car before I realized I’d been staring intently at my feet for some time longer than was necessary. In fact, when I finally looked up, I noticed the lushest, most inviting walking (for a barefoot wanderer) was actually not the path itself, but the space NEXT to the path. And while it was arguably much safer to stick to the exposed dirt – where I’d be able to see everything before I stepped on it – it was much more fun to walk on the shoulders. Safe isn’t always better, and every path is unique to the soul treading upon it.
Yes, my feet hurt a little by the time I got back to the car, but it only made it more delightful to soothe them in the mud and rinse them in the puddles. When I put my shoes back on I didn’t feel resentful of the necessity of them, or sad at the end of the experience (though I did wash the socks I wore that day twice). I just felt peaceful, grateful. That I had indulged my little-girl-self in a bit of whimsy, that I had the beautiful chance to be inspired by the experience, and that I had been able to enjoy the whole wonderful thing all alone with my thoughts, and my version of god.
Happy hiking friends. Go squish some mud between your toes and hike like a hobbit.