“The clearest way into the universe is through a forest wilderness – John Muir”
Over rolling hills and through meadows full of goldenrod, studded with purple asters, I took a walk yesterday. It is almostautumn here in Ohio; officially just a few days away. My favorite season.is quickly approaching. So too was it Megan’s favorite season. Harvest festivals, halloween, hooded-sweatshirt-weather, the changing of the leaves, and big puffy lake-effect clouds dotting bright blue skies make it the most colorful and dramatic time of the year.
It’s been quite a long time since I stepped out for a hike on my own. As much as I enjoy and desire solitude, it is still more enjoyable to be with Sarah and Shelby on a walk in the woods. Between Shelby noticing every little chipmunk, snail and caterpillar (of course, giving any creature she discovers a name beginning with “Mister” and some variant of “fluffy, squishy, or slimy”, depending on species) and Sarah’s wonder at the environment of the woods up here, versus Texas (Maple trees are slightly more robust than Mesquite trees), I take as much in enjoyment watching them have the experience as I do experiencing it myself.
Watching them is something new to me, and I noticed it by being alone on this particular walk.
Frankly, Megan never shared my love of the outdoors. She enjoyed going camping, because of the food, campfire chats, and company. She hiked with me because it was good for her health, not because she genuinely wanted to be in the woods. For a long time, it was physically impossible for her to even go hiking, simply because, as she described it, it was like breathing through a straw all of the time.
After her transplant, hiking became a sort of physical rehabilitation for her. Shelby had gotten old enough to hike on her own as well, and soon began her scientific research of tiny things crawling around the trail, foot-by-foot. Regardless, Megan never hiked or explored nature on her own…it was always with me. She went with me far more frequently, so I got used to having a companion or two along when I went.
When her rejection started, all hiking and outdoor pursuits came to a halt. It wasn’t until a few months after her death that I stepped back out into the woods, alone in the winter. One walk renewed my faith in the fact that I needed to be outside, in nature. I hiked alone for a while, periodically taking Shelby with me when she wasn’t spending time with grandparents. Sarah and I’s first hike together was in Kentucky, a few months after meeting at Camp Widow, and it was there that I started to notice how much she appreciates being outside with or without others.
Fast forward to now, and the three of us hike together at least weekly. I’ve been so used to Megan treating it as a social exercise, not really seeing the forest for the trees, that it has taken me until now to realize that Sarah is, really, a better hiking partner. She sees things that I don’t see, and she appreciates things that I point out or observe. Shelby, as she grows, is becoming more observant of the greater picture as well.
Hiking alone, at lunch yesterday brought another one of those “what ifs” to the forefront. Had Megan not died, these solo hikes may be a more frequent occurrence. As insensitive as it sounds, I didn’t enjoy hiking with her as much as I do with Sarah. With nature and the outdoors in general being a humongous part of who I am, Sarah is a better fit than Megan ever was in that respect. I don’t see that as disparaging to Megan. That wasn’t who she was, and it wasn’t the woman I fell in love with and married.
It’s a simple observation that yet again, we change as people over time, and sometimes, fate provides a silver lining by bringing the right people at the right time, regardless of the trials one has to go through to get there. Sometimes, to see the forest for the trees, you have to walk alone.