>> Thursday, December 22, 2011
...because at some point, we all venture off our course.
The path is packed with dirt, winding slow and steady up the hill. Fist-size rocks peek out from the edges, lodged in place, ready to trip you up if you're not paying attention.
I'm running uphill, feet on the path, soles connecting with the earth beneath me each step I take. Contact -- I make it, my feet gripping the surface beneath and so I correct, I compensate when I hit mud or slippery pine needles, my body holds form and I run, slow and steady, up the path, breathing in and out, heart pumping, pulse thumping. My body pulses with each step, and I'm working.
There are sections of the trail, impassible. Downed trees, branches too big, too spread and spiny, to scramble. I pause, and I'm scanning. I can scramble straight up the hillside, through the brush and the trees, but it's going to be dirty and slow-going. I won't make it back to the path without scratches and cuts to show for it.
I go. I take my detour, leaving the path, the work of the predictible, and I venture off course. It's steep, and so I'm crawling as much as climbing, knees dampened by wet dirt, rocks embedded in my palms and knees as I'm reaching, pulling, grabbing at roots and rocks to anchor myself.
Some of them give way, and I backslide, losing as much ground as I've covered, but gaining, too: appreciation for not falling hard or further, knowledge of consequence, wisdom to spot a better touchstone, to I.D. a foothold before I step ahead.
I'm clutching, pulling, pulling myself up, branches giving way, leaves in my hand as stems slip through my palms, an empty grip. I make it to a tree and I swing my body around, resting back against the trunk, back to the downslope, looking up at where I'm going, not back at where I've been.
I catch my breath and power on. My thighs are burning and my chest stabs sharp. I bend, hands touching down to the dirt with each climb, toes digging in deep.
I raise my head high, and I see it. I can see my path where it winds around and switches back, further up the slope. I can see myself back on track, but it's the getting-there that's hard work. I need to keep my head down, my eyes focused on the slope to make it through my detour. If I get too hungry for the path, for the ease of the trail, I'll miss the obstacles in front of my face and I'll slip, kicking up rocks and catching on roots and I'll slide downhill, tumbling out of control to where I started, but more battered and bruised.
So I will move. Head down, eyes focused, body burning, muscles moving. I will scramble and climb, digging toes in deep, securing footholds and holding strong to the rocks on my course. (We all need those rocks.) And I will make it. Will get there, to the top of the hillside where I will lay palms flat on the path and swing my knee up and over, then another. And when I'm there on all fours in the dirt, catching my breath, letting my heart rate steady, I'll look ahead on my path, still uphill, but marked and clear. I'll cast a glance down that slope I'd scaled, seeing from this vantage point above just how treacherous it was, just how bad it could have been, and I'll offer up a prayer of thanks for making it through.
And then I'll stand up. Knee to foot, hands to knee, pushing up and rising tall. I'll raise my arms above my head and breathe deeply, inhaling fresh starts and gratitude. I'll brush the dirt off my knees and clean the rocks from my cuts and I'll step forward. I'll pick up my pace and add spring to my step -- and I'll run. Heart and arms pumping, soles touching down, making contact with the earth beneath me, head held high, eyes and mind determined, and I'll continue my climb, set out to make it.