It is no secret that some outdoors people might struggle with intimacy when it comes to other humans, and thus spend much time in the wilderness where humans are few and far between. When they do happen across another, they most certainly will have at least one thing in common.
Perhaps I have read too much Edward Abbey and assumed his cantankerous approach to civilization is a co-factor in developing a robust appreciation for nature.
Some time ago, I was running on the state forests behind my home in the Selkirks when I ran into another human. I see a lot of moose and the occasional elk. I never see other humans. For this reason, I can run wearing what one might expect to see in a 1986 Jazzercise video, including leg warmers and mascara melting down my face. I might have to chop my own wood, but I can do it in my underwear if I please – just one of the many benefits of backwoods living.
I figured this gentleman and his wife were lost, and they figured I’d fallen off a bus returning from a Las Vegas bachelorette party. It turned out that they lived a few hills away and had done so for nearly three decades. In fact, they had been hiking and mapping the “trails” for years.
I asked how to get to the top of a particular mountain that I had attempted from various angles without success.
“There must be a trail to the top,” I said.
He drew back a little and eyeballed me from head to toe in an obvious assessment of my personal character. I wished I had at least worn matching socks.
“If I show you on the map, you have to promise to never tell anyone with a machine,” he said.
Fair enough. Several weeks later, I came home to find a hand-drawn map on my kitchen counter with miles of unmarked trails. Some of them I had discovered on my own lost-most-of-the-day adventures; others were unknown treasures of cedar groves and huckleberry patches.
For two years now, I have run these trails. Sometimes I snowshoe them. Sometimes I pick the wrong one and end up in someone’s backyard. I have come to know every inch, where the best mossy rocks are, where the moose sheds cannot be found (I still don’t know where they can be found), where the cedar boughs hang low, where it feels like Narnia in the wintertime. I have a thousand little memories of leaping over creeks, stomping in puddles or realizing how far from home I was without food.
What I don’t have are memories of being with anyone else in my own private Idaho. There are lots of memories of a brown dog and a single summit I drag my lady friends up once or twice a year. The rest of it is like my sanctuary.
So it occurred to me last weekend as I kicked up the snow, turned and chirped to my running partner “Isn’t this little section of trail glorious?” that I might be in love.
Lord knows, I wouldn’t share this with just anyone. In fact, I hadn’t shared it with anyone. Ever.
There is a purity to a place with only first-person memories. It cannot be tainted with broken hearts or bitterness, even if that is what inspired the journey in the first place. And yet maybe the most vulnerable gesture we can make is to share an invariably unique experience with another human. Maybe letting them into our soul-searching places, our healing woods, the soils that ground us, is like showing the delicate interior of our beating hearts.
While the general population might develop intimacy over candlelight dinners and conversation, the outdoors person likely has a different approach. Evidence of our desire for deep, emotional connection may be measured by the uncharted secrets we show, by bringing memories of someone onto our backyard trails, and possibly by how many M&Ms we leave in the trail mix before we offer to share it.
Ammi Midstokke can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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