HomeThe Well-Lived LifeHow I Found My Path to Aliveness

Sketch of Grasses and Galax by Stephanie Thomas Berry{Sketch of Grasses and Galax}      

My friend Whitney calls me at 10 am on a brilliant and warm Saturday morning and says hike?

My tail wags expectantly.

I have thirty minutes. I will have to hurry because I am still in my pajamas. Amazingly I arrive only 14 minutes late.

There is another woman joining us, Michelle. I have not spent a lot of time with her so I’m looking forward to that. Michelle is lean and fit and she has a watch with a little GPS thing that tells her how far she’s hiked or run, and then maps out where she went. She tells a story about tiring out her half-marathon-running-sister on a hike. I know I am out of my league here. I am neither lean nor fit nor even a tenth-marathon runner. Whitney, I already know from experience, can sleek up a mountainside like a rambling cat—quiet, efficient, and fast. I began to feel anxious. I love to hike, but I don’t want to slow these women down.

But Michelle is an incredible trail leader. She seems to intuitively know what my speed is, and even though she is no doubt dying to stretch her legs she maintains a pace that is comfortable for me and altogether delicious, all without looking over her shoulder to see where I am. There is a vibrant ease about her, and it’s wonderful. I put my anxiety aside and relax into the hike.

The forest is gorgeous. From our trail we can see the cliffs at the very top of the mountain, standing tall and dark like the great Hall of the Mountain King. They are bedecked in cascades of shimmering ice that gleam to my far-off observing eye. It gives me goosebumps its so beautiful.

Below us Rock Creek cascades in a choir of undines, who carry the song of the heart of the mountain, that deep cold watery womb, forward into the world.

Into the world. I am entering that forest bliss and my body becomes deeply alive and connected to this wilderness.

We stop for a minute, and Whitney takes the lead. I adore my friend. She is compassionate, funny, and honest. We share a love of the forest and of adventure, though her physique is more suited to adventure’s physical demands than mine currently is. Really, she is a powerhouse of energy. I struggle to keep up with her,  and struggle too with the wild desire to pull out my sketchbook and record what I am experiencing. I think about this recent SNL skit with Dakota Johnson, in which five women parody Sara Bareilles’s song Brave. They all speak their truth, just as the song encourages, but in hysterically awkward situations.

I decide I can be brave, too. My heart is dying to connect with the undines and the captain of the mountain and I know that requires a sketchbook, some stillness, and a turtle pace. Whitney and Michelle can continue on their adventure without me—they are attempting to get to Higgens Bald by crossing over Open Ridge. Sometimes the path to aliveness is a solitary one, and I am totally fine with that.

Speaking up wasn’t hard. The hard part comes next. Because, inevitably, when I walk in the forest alone, I have to deal with this freak-out voice that tells me I’ve made myself too vulnerable and that I’m going to die, die, die. Ironically, it’s when I hear this voice I know I’m on the right path. I’m pushing my limits. I’m edging against my own fear. I’m on my own path to aliveness.

I wish it wasn’t so uncomfortable. But it always is, at first. I re-analyze the story I’d heard of Hispanics holding a hunter at gunpoint on this very trail. The Hispanics are in these woods gathering a plant called galax, which they sell to the floral industry. I don’t know much about the hunter. He was probably armed, too. All these weapons friggin’ freak me out.

Of course, currently they are only in my imagination.

Then I think, Well shit, I’m probably attracting a terrible experience to myself just by thinking about it and I need to think about something else now. Which causes me to freak out even more, for a minute or so, until I relax. I sit on the high boulder-tumbled banks of Rock Creek and relax. A flock of juncos settles into the brush behind me. The water below shimmers with undines.

And that’s when the fun begins. I compose some wonderful sketches, and seeds of poems, and I have a very productive pretend conversation with my most beloved artist, Walter Anderson. My adventure got really interesting, once I got the guns out of my head.

As a woman, I have been trained to be afraid. Or maybe I have blindly accepted fear—from Hollywood and the news and stories of many women I have known. But when I make a conscious choice I am able to override this default setting. I discover that fear is where I want to go, I want to push against it, I want to walk with my spine straight and shimmering with aliveness, I want to jump into the cold river, I want to walk the trail alone. I want to meet my demons and see what gifts they have to bring. Because they’ve got some fine treasure, and I want them to give it to me.


How I Found My Path to Aliveness — 5 Comments

  1. Oh I love the way you write!  And oh my gosh I feel like you jumped into my soul and shared things I haven’t ever written or verbalized, just experienced.  I love that.

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