We set out on a perfect and sunny November Saturday, headed toward the longest trail in Meeman-Shelby Forest State Park. When my friend Nathan asked me if I was interested in hiking the 8-mile, one-way trail, I was excited to finally have someone to join me. I’d probably never walk that long of a trail by myself, and Nathan is one of very few people I’d want to spend several hours with while walking in the woods.
Our lunches are packed, and our cameras are ready. We rustle the leaves with every step and pause to admire the simplest things - barely trickling water, mushrooms, an extra large leaf. There’s so much of the same out here in the woods. What makes it so interesting every time? Why do I like trees and standing water (and hate the mosquitos that come as a package deal)?
We stop every time we see a trail map just to make sure we’re doing this right. Before starting, there’d been some back and forth on whether we’d been mistaken and this trail was actually a loop. A little less than halfway in, the trail begins winding in and out of the woods, sometimes taking you onto an unpaved road. Do these paths all end up at the same place? Does it matter which way we get there. And, oh yeah, did we ever decide on where there is actually located?
It is never long before we see the white blaze we’re looking for, leading us in the way we need to go. Not so much the “right way,” just the way the keeps us walking.
Unlike my everyday work life, bound by to-do lists and calendar reminders, I don’t have many expectations out here. Skittering wildlife. An unknown bird call. Trail detours. I don’t know what the ending will look like, and even if I’d been here before, something would have changed - the colors of the leaves, the depth of water in the stream.
Roughly halfway through the Chickasaw Bluff Trail, we connect to the Pioneer Springs trail. Lo and behold, and without any prior knowledge of this, we stumble upon an actual underground spring (video below)! It’s a surprise and a treasure to watch the bubbling sand, preserved and protected in the middle of the forest.
After that, though, more of the same. Orange leaves and cypress trees. Squirrels and mushrooms. Then, out of nowhere, it’s over. The end. Your legs and feet cry out, “thank you!” because, after all, 8 miles is a long way to walk.
Remember this: even when think we know the ending, we don’t. We plan the route yet we must remain open to alternates. If we open our eyes and let ourselves stop to look around, we’ll find surprises, underground treasures. Most important is this: all along the way are ordinary gifts, found in faces we’ve seen a thousand times, paths that, at first glance, may look like every one that’s come before.
Sometimes you’ll walk alone. Sometimes you’ll walk together. Who will you bring along this time? Whose invitation will you accept?
Whether alone or together, may the leaves rustle with every step and don’t forget to pause and admire the simple things.
See below for a video of the Pioneer Springs!
Pioneer Springs by Abbye West Pates