The Best Part So Far

I’ll be hiking, my mind deep in that hibernation it enters when I’m alone for a while, when suddenly I see movement up ahead. Moving on two legs, dressed in colorful clothing, notably lacking a giant pack: day hikers. Relieved to see another person, I start talking with them. They usually want to know about my hike, when and where I started, and inevitably that question comes up: “What’s been the best part so far?”

I never know how to answer that. Whenever they ask it, the memories of the past 1500 miles which I’m usually cycling through all the time seem to vanish; I can’t remember anything I’ve done. So I usually have a stock answer of some kind: “the Greyson Highlands were really pretty,” usually. Soon the conversation’s over, and I’m back in the world of slow, oozing, amorphous thought.

I’m still debating whether I ought to let my mind wander like that all the time, or whether I should be paying more attention to the woods. I came out here because I like nature, didn’t I? But I’ve been living amongst the trees for almost 4 months; they aren’t a magical woodland for me now, they’re just what I’m used to seeing everyday. Still, they sometimes strike me as especially beautiful, usually if the light’s shining through them in some special way. The other evening, it was like that. Late afternoon, maybe it was–I have no idea, because I haven’t been carrying a watch. The sun was off to the side in the sky, so when I climbed onto the higher ridges, golden light would pass right between the trunks and fall on a patch of ground here, a bush there, another trunk up ahead. It was gorgeous. There was also a slight but constant breeze rustling the leaves, that river-like sound that always makes me feel at peace.

I came upon a pond. It struck me that it must have been ‘unnaturally’ built by beavers, because it was contained by a ramshackle wall of limbs and mud on one side. I started looking for other beaver signs, and they were everywhere–chewed-off stumps and trees with a huge scoop taken out of the bottom, even a lodge up against the distant shore. I looked across the water ruffled by that breeze, hoping for a glimpse of that beaver. I was having little luck, but then the breeze died down. And suddenly, it became not a question of whether I’d see one, but how many. Subtle streaks along the surface of the water, with a furry brown knob at the head, appeared all over when the ripples that had disguised them leveled out. At least four, I counted–but there could have been more. Some got close, and I could see the head sticking out just enough to sense what was around, but not enough, perhaps, to take too much effort. For the beavers looked very much at ease. They drifted to and fro in the water, going about some business, maybe, but not in any rush. I’ve never seen an animal more satisfied with itself than these beavers were, swimming in the watery home that they had made, luxuriating in the order they had fashioned out of chaos.

I watched them for a while. I watched them until the point when it definitely was evening, the bugs started coming out, and I started worrying about getting to the shelter before dark. But part of me didn’t want to leave. I guess I was waiting for them to do something exciting, like come all the way out of the water. Still, even if I stood there long enough to grow familiar with their whole daily routine of motion, I’d never cease to be transfixed by these beavers, doing their simple work calmly and with pride. Why weren’t they more scared of me, by the way? I wondered. Have I really been that quiet? Or are they, like the locals who I run into on their day hikes, simply used to the sight of thru-hikers trudging by? Maybe they too were wondering which day I started.

The most recent time I was asked my favorite part of the trail, I paused before issuing my customary response. The trees were so green and swaying in the breeze, it was cool but sunny. “Well, it’s pretty great right now, isn’t it?”

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Comments 2

  • Christine Findlay : Jul 6th

    I am so happy you are having such a wonderful hike! We missed you at the farm but I wanted you to know we think of you often!

  • Pete Miller : Jul 14th

    Your July 5 note is a real keeper.

    You’re in Padre’s and his family’s part of the country now, and if you want any help or just plain visits, reach out. We’ve been to a lot of the crossings from CT to Baxter at one time or another, for part or full re-supply, hot meals, whatever. They’re all close enough.


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