Recently I was walking around a public park in Greensboro, NC and there were two specific aspects I saw, on a life-sized bronze statue on display, that got my attention. The first was a hiking stick being held, and the second were the hiking boots being worn. These two images reminded me a lot of my past.
Up until the time in my life when I was no longer physically able to do the sort of rugged hiking I once did, there were few things I enjoyed more than exploring alone, trails, woods, lake shores and mountain scenery on foot. I usually had a stout walking stick to help my balance, and always wore a sturdy and comfortable pair of boots. Most times I carried a camera to record what I saw. I recall one time specifically when I finally reached the bottom of a rocky gorge I’d hiked to in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, descending about 2000 feet elevation over steep twisting and ankle bending trails, when I had to stop, sit down on a large fallen tree trunk, and begin to regain my breath and to let my shaking legs rest. After eating an energy bar, and draining about half of my limited water supply, I asked myself if this sort of strenuous outdoor activity was really worth it. Well, after I continued on my way along a stream flowing through the base of the gorge, toward the trail that would eventually take me back up the steep gorge to where I had parked my car I discovered something that made it easy to answer my question of “worth” with a resounding “yes.”
Off in the dark woods, I spotted a rock wall about four feet high. It was obviously man-made, and surrounded what I saw right away was a cemetery. There were about twenty, crude stone-slab grave markers there, and the ones on which the carved letters were still legible, I determined that the people buried there had died before 1910. Many were the graves of babies who had died in less than two years after being born, a testament to exactly how hard life was in these mountain valleys during that time. Strangely, a few of the graves had artificial flowers neatly arranged on top. Someone, I thought, had been visiting this old cemetery recently. Who were they and how did they get here I wondered. Had they hiked down the steep trail I did, or was there some other way to the site? No matter how they got there, they deeply cared about the place.
As I began my hike back up the slope I concluded that doing what I was doing that day was not only excellent physical activity, but the real benefit was being able to discover such a relatively hidden place, clearly with a great amount of sentiment being given to it by those who had placed the flowers on those graves. When I finally made it to my car (again gasping and straining to walk easy) I finished off my water supply and promised myself that so long as I was physically able, I’d continue to hike and explore. It’s memories of such times that give me joy today. When I see objects like the hiking staff and boots on the bronze statue in Greensboro, I flash back to those days when I hiked.