One of the instructors from the Project Adventure class, along with my friend and some of the other tree jumping crazies, also hiked in the Adirondack Mountains. My friend invited me along. There are bears in those mountains. Did I mention my extreme fear of bears? Especially bears hiding in the shadows in the woods? Bears had stalked me since early childhood, hunting me at night in my dreams, chasing me as I ran, reaching for me with outstretched claws – before I wakened to a pounding heart. I never told my parents or brothers or friends about the dream, felt stupid for being so afraid. Then the real bears appeared, relocated to our woods from those same Adirondack Mountains. The news filled with reports of sightings in backyards where children played. Our mailman spotted one crossing just up the road. I even heard my own mother’s chilling phone conversation with my aunt, relating her certainty that a bear was near as our dog herded us together and trembled at our feet in the blueberry lot. My mother was terrified and therefore so was I. We camped in those mountains. On one trip we had watched the bears feed at the dump in front of us – until one came from behind and sent my mother screaming to the camper with me in tow. Early one morning we found footprints in a campsite restroom that had not been there the night before. And now I was going hiking with nothing but my backpack between me and a monster?? But despite all this, I said yes.
The others appeared relaxed and laughed their way through the woods as we ascended. The rocky path demanded my careful attention to not end up on my butt. I had walked good distances for years, but had never hiked up a mountain. It was not easy. But I found my way at the tail end of the group; always sure I was within sight. The steady pace eased my apprehensions as we kept hiking. Focus shifted away from fears and effort to the surrounding trees and rocks and wildlife. We moved above the tree line to the bald bouldered top. Waves of green mountains flowed around me as far as I could see. The open sky nestled into each crevice, like a blanket in a cradle, embracing precious flesh. I turned and turned, trying to open a new window in my brain to allow it all in. We rested and ate and laughed and sat in the silence of wonder. Heading back down I was surprised at how much harder it was than the climb up! Gravity had pulled my feet into the security of the solid earth on the way up, but now it threatened to grab my foot as it extended into mid air and hurtle me down onto the sharp rocks. Step by slow step I retreated to the base, but carried the vista from above deep within me. My thighs ached for days afterwards, but I had finally entered the woods, bears and all. The tug of the beauty, peace and quiet there, would take me back again and again.