I am not an outdoorsy person. Though I really do want to be. I admire my adventurous friends who are snowshoeing in Whistler and climbing steep mountain trails to admire a waterfall sparkling in the winter sun.
When the idea to “go for a hike” comes up in our house, my typical response is usually one, or more of these:
“I don’t have hiking boots.”
“Can’t today. Need new sunglasses.” (Re: the glare that could accompany aforementioned waterfall trek)
“I would if only I had the right pants to wear. Can’t wear these!”
“Busting out of my sports bra so it’s a no for me.”
“If I had the right outfit, I’d be right there with you.”
I’ve recognized a pattern in my responses, of course. If only I had the right THIS or THAT, I could be like the other kids. If only. But.. I have the wrong shoes. The wrong clothes. The wrong hat. The wrong… um.. attitude.
So, this past weekend when the Atlanta weather took a turn and presented us with winter weekend temps that approached the 70s (that’s 21-ish for my Canadian pals), I put on my all-wrong shoes and my too tight-wish-they-were-spandex khakis and headed to Panola Mountain State Park.
An easy 20 to 25 minute ride from my Atlanta home, Panola Mountain State Park is a 100-acre granite monadnock (which is a pretty rare, isolated rock hill rising abruptly from the plain .. FYI), similar to, yet not as commercialized as Georgia’s own ever-popular Stone Mountain. This 1600-acre park, with its rare ecosystem and visible stone, was the perfect scenario for my attempt to become one with nature.
After a quick visit to the Nature Center – where I was greeted by a park ranger who had a snake wrapped around her shoulders. As I moved toward her, a little too quickly, she said “SNAKE!” loudly. I admit, I didn’t even see her reptilian buddy as they were both sporting the same colors. Oh, I see what you did there, park ranger. Camouflage cleverness, indeed. You got me.
Slipping past the snake and the his charmer, I swept the rest of the room – filled with glassed-in creepy crawlies of all species — and we were off to the trails.
At the honest-to-goodness fork in the road, we were allowed two options: The Outcrop Trail – a 3/4 mile trail that brings you up to an overlook spot where you can see Panola Mountain or The Watershed Trail, a 1.25 mile trek that skirts two branches of a small creek (or so it says). Obviously, given the fact I wasn’t wearing REAL hiking clothing, I thought the less than one mile option was a good place to get my feet wet — without REALLY getting my feet wet.
I really enjoyed the hike down. With all the leaves off the trees, and the blue sky peeking between the branches.
When we made it to the bottom, the path curved back up and up – to the lookout area. It was the summit of the trail, I suppose. The place real hikers stopped to take photos. Breathe in the mountain air. Listen to birds and the twisting and shuffling of the leaves far below. But as I leaned on the railing, trying so hard to get excited about the vulture that was circling over us, I just wasn’t feeling it. I was anxious.
“So, what do you do now?” I asked my husband.
“You just watch. Listen.”
“Hmm.” I mumble, taking photos for Instgram and checking how much data I had left in my billing cycle.
“If you stay here long enough, you’ll see how things change. I can spend 10 minutes just watching it all,” my husband says, his camera focused on … well, on nothing. Waiting for life to happen, I guess.
“I don’t think I can just DO nothing.”
“Yes. You can. You just have to stop trying so hard.”
I took his words and shoved them in my pocket, urging him to keep moving up the short trail to the top.
When we reached the boardwalk, a sign plastered from rail to rail barred our entry with: “Do not cross. Wet paint.”
“So, we have to go ALL the way back down now and back to where we started to get to that other side?” Ugh.
Through the trees, just as we reached the top on our backtracking journey up the mountain, I saw the park ranger dragging the wet paint sign behind her. Of course. It wasn’t even wet… Hrrumph!
By now, you’re probably wondering what the hell this story is about. Did I just have a miserable time? Did I dart for the car once we reached the place from whence we started?
Oh contraire, my friends. Contraire.
We got to the other side of that not-really-wet-paint boardwalk and it was lovely. And oh-so-quiet. And my husband showed me how pretty the sage-green moss was when the sun hit it and the dew sparkled like diamonds on top. He didn’t describe it like that, but that’s what I saw. He pointed out the interesting way this tree was burrowed out over the years and how this one had split into four. And it was so peaceful. And beautiful. And so far-removed from everything I do and see every day.
I saw the forest. I saw the trees. I sipped from nature’s cup and I found that I quite like the flavor.
At the nature center on our way out, we laid out the cash for the ParkPass — the invitation to visit any and all state parks in Georgia. A challenge. One per month, we said to each other. Or maybe more. We’ll see. There’s so much to see when you stop looking so hard.