Last weekend we decided to check out a fairly popular local hike. We looked it up in our hike book and decided that we’d start from a point midway along and make a loop by using a marked but much smaller side trail back up to where we started. Along the way I learned a few things about taking the path less traveled by, in hiking and in parenting.
Planning and Knowledge Matter
Our route was made possible by the research we did before we left the house. We Google mapped the side road we would start from, and double checked it with the paper map when our first try at finding our trailhead brought us to a “Mature Residents Only” gated community. Um, I was thinking more like wilderness trail, not suburbs for seniors. We were definitely in the wrong place, but found the right turnoff after consulting the map again.
Research has helped me quell fears and find my path in parenting too. Knowing homebirth success rates, transfer rates, cesarean rates and overall infant mortality rates helped me make an informed decision to give birth at home. Knowing that breastfed toddlers continue to receive significant nutritional, emotional and immunological support from breastmilk helps me shrug off whatever other people might think. I’m glad to have a map to refer to, even if I still have to deal with day-to-day uncertainty.
The Well-Trodden Path Has A Momentum of Its Own
For part of our hike, we followed the main path downhill until we found the smaller, less worn trail to complete our loop back up the hill. While we were on the main path we met someone we knew, walked along together for a while, passed many other people, their dogs and kids. The constant stream of people seemed to suck us into following along that path, and I was glad that Tom piped up to remind us that we needed to start looking out for the small path soon. It would have been easy to forget to watch for our turnoff.
There are certainly days when I feel like the easiest and most sensible choice would be to send Bea to the kindergarten down the street. I felt a lot of internal conflict when other moms started going back to work when their maternity leave was done, and for a while I doubted my decision to stay home. The current of the mainstream has a strong pull when you’re in the midst of it.
The Less-Trodden Path Has More Hidden Treasures
I don’t know whether it’s simply because fewer feet pass by or because the people who find those alternative routes are alternative kind of folks, but we found all kinds of treasure on the little path. We found an Inukshuk, several excellent walking sticks and a nurse log with tiny, tiny newborn trees sprouting up from it. We could talk back and forth with each other and let Bea set her own pace without fear of holding up other people on the trail.
Still, there was a moment when I thought I’d found the trail and we all stared up into the forest at the small path leading through the trees and a solitary yellow marker dangling from a tree branch, trying to decide whether this was really it. Would we say goodbye to our friend and the security of the main path to potentially bushwack our way uphill all the way back to the road? YES! I suspect the thrill of adventure had a lot to do with our willingness to give it a try. That and the fact that I knew to recognize the “faded yellow paint splotches” as trail markers.
Sometimes I wonder whether I prefer the lonely paths because I’m quite happy to choose the company of myself or a few dear ones over being part of a crowd, or whether there really are more treasures to be found by taking the path less traveled by. Maybe it really just boils down to wanting a forest hike to feel like a daring and remote mountain experience, even if I’m only 20 minutes away from downtown. In any case, I’m glad we ventured up that small, almost unmarked path last weekend.
How do you feel about taking the path less traveled by? Do you find it stressful or exhilarating?