We emerged from the Fern Lake trail in the bright mid-morning sun, after hiking four and a half miles from Odessa Lake, on whose shore we had spent the night. The trail down from the lake started rocky and exposed, then turned into packed dirt in the breezy shadow of stately firs and quivering aspens.
Along the way, we met several fishermen, a park rangers’ rescue team in training, and other hikers—some couples and a few families with children in tow. Adults usually nodded, or said: “Hi.” Some smiled and, taking their cue from our backpacks, asked: “Where did you sleep?” The children rarely said anything or even made eye contact with us, maybe out of shyness, but most probably because as adults, we were by definition uninteresting, backpacks notwithstanding. Most of them looked bored, a few irritated, the rest slightly interested in the surrounding forest.
I remembered being worse than them. To treat my flat feet, as a child I had to wear custom-made boots that felt and looked like a prison. The orthopedist had recommended walks on rough terrain. When I was made to hike by my parents, I felt punished. I hated it and my permanent scowl made my feelings abundantly clear to anyone who dared look at me.
A stretch of unpaved road linked the Fern Lake Trailhead to our destination: the parking lot where the visitor shuttle stopped. I started on it savoring the bittersweetness infusing the end of an adventure. In the spotlight of the sun approaching its zenith, I saw a trio coming slowly towards us. A woman and a man held by the hands a boy walking unsteadily yet determinedly on thin, bow legs. His grin was as luminous as the sun above—a grin of unlimited happiness.
I focused on him only an instant. “He doesn’t want to be looked at,” I thought. But in that instant our eyes met across the road. I smiled at him. He surprised me with a silvery “Hello!” ringing like a mindfulness bell.
“Oh, hello!” I answered, widening my smile to match his grin.
His short dark hair stuck out at its end, pagoda-like. Four years old, I guessed. But there was no guessing about his glee: every inch of his frail frame screamed his joy of walking outdoors.
My gaze let him go, but I held on to the desire of declaring the same joy in each of my steps.
© 2015-2023 Simona Carini