Tuesday, October 30, 2012

In the Woods Finding Faith--The Scenic Route

This past weekend I spent six hours in the woods hiking with my boyfriend. He likes to work out and be active, I like to be in nature.  Our hobby co-insides but our motives sometimes leads to compromise.

In this case I chose a location, the Walls of Jericho, right outside of Scottsboro, AL where I thought both our hiking ideals would be met. The hike is vigorous, while only six miles round trip, the terrain is very steep and the slope is known to be slick. There are multiple warnings from hikers and the park association that this hike is difficult for people who are in shape (they estimate it will take at least four hours to get through the trail).

I learned this weekend that I am not anywhere near in shape, and my mate, who works out every day, is also not appropriately in shape for this hike. Something meant to be a fun, thoughtful, into nature/photography and semi-religious hike was incredibly grueling, though surprisingly still religious for me (just not the experience I expected to have).

My last post here I compared Alabama autumn to Massachusetts autumn. In particular I discussed how my fall routine is different. The Walls of Jericho was very reminiscent of an early fall hike in MA. The temperature dropped into the mid forties, which was pleasant with my fleece and a backpack to tote. The wind on the hill side had just a hint of the frost penetration I'm used to.

It strikes me what a critical difference in the feeling of the land I get just an hour and a half northeast from where I live. Instead of the leaves showing peak colors, they are flagging just a little. Instead of lush valleys and deep wide streams, there were jagged rocks, steep cliff ledges, and dry winding river beds.

The land itself didn't have the same feeling of divine presence I have here. I know my local Land God's limits. I drive to work outside of Zir sphere of influence. I can feel Zir presence fade and the Tennessee River welcome me. Still, even out of “direct influence” from my God, I can get a sense that there is a relationship between my home land God and the land God who rules the physical land I work on. There is acknowledgment, respect, an awareness of a shared realm, and separate relationships with the Tennessee River which divides their areas of influence.

The land at Jericho doesn't seem to have the same kind of ties back to my Land. I got a sense of some kind of divine at Jericho, but it was more reserved. Perhaps it's because of the time of year, as there is clearly a drought in that place now, and bird migration appears to be in full swing, as opposed to just starting as it is here. There may just not be enough resources or time to bring out a big welcome wagon for a passerby. Perhaps because approximately 300 people a day travel through Jericho when weather is nice, the land there doesn’t make connections with people until it sees further commitment, or how one fairs in the trails. Whatever the case, it just further served to highlight how hospitable my own local Gods have been to me and how blessed I am that they reached out and welcomed me when I first arrived in Alabama. It's easy to forget that I'm not the one who reaches out and makes connections all on my own, they are mutually forged.

Because the incline of the hillside is so steep, the path we walked is set as a long winding set of zig zagging diagonals to help make the slope more navigable. While it doesn't look like a labyrinth, there is much the same effect. As we trotted a long the path and later staggered back, the mate and I had a chance to pass and be passed by many people in many different states.  We played tag with a few people swapping which of our groups was blazing the trail first.  I often stopped and looked around to observe where we were relative to others and what their state seemed to be. The way the trail loops one can be parallel with other hikers but still be mildly obscured through foliage as one may be in a labyrinth. I liked having a chance to observe people this way and socialize in that quiet pleasant way we both know won't go any further than this path. I felt like I had a chance to connect to a bunch of different walks of life all in one outing and I also had a chance to notice who wasn't present on the path with us.

Perhaps my favorite part of the trip, was that I got to walk back in a dry river bed. It wasn't part of the planned program.  The actual path had us walking on a narrow, rocky, steep terrain where I kept looking down to see the dry, rocky but flat river bed.  I told the mate "We're so walking back in that river bed".  He laughed and was dumbfounded when about fifty feet in to our return trip, he realized I had actually left the path and gone into the river bed.  It was so worth it.  I might even recommend walking back in the river when it's wet, given the current isn't terrible and one is equipped for it.

 I felt like a little kid with my big bag of trail mix, jumping from stone to stone and munching. I could see each and every stone the river had rounded, shaped, moved, and placed. I climbed over brush piles still strapped in spots the current had driven them. The mate and I each chose a side of a small island of dirt and debris the river had created to walk around. This river bed was dry now and the land in Jericho may have been going into hibernation, but there is massive power waiting to shape, change, drive, and create. Walking through the evidence of one aspect of that power, when so much is often hidden or observed without thought, was meaningful to me.

So magical part of this trip was being out in nature, even when it isn't a serene meditative walk has powerful meaning and value once I catch my breathe. The practical part of this trip is that I need to work out more and stick to less vigorous trails so I don't have to worry I won't make it back to my car by dark. 

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Article copyright Swift Rabbit/ Southern Pagan Muses

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