There’s a park near my new apartment. A park with rocks and stones, trees, a beautiful flower garden, and grassy lawns. I’ve been exploring it all week, since apparently my body has now decided it wants to go hiking at 7 am. As I’ve never been a morning person, this is quite astonishing, but I’m not going to argue with an impulse like that!
I’ve never understood why I like hiking so much. (Hiking is a good term to encompass the sort of run/walk/powerwalk thing I do.) Certainly, it developed living in Colorado, especially in high school, when I’d occasionally drive to the canyon and hike to escape my problems and cry silently into the wind while dreaming myself up into the mountains behind me. So there’s always been a freedom, sort of a Maria-singing-in-the-hills feeling for me, though I confess I rarely ever sing while hiking.
If I stop and thinking about it, though, it started years before, when we’d first moved to Colorado. My mom always wanted to go for walks and talk things out, and being the oldest, I was usually the one who went with her. But to go for a walk in our neighborhood was essentially to go for a hike, because it’s incredibly hilly and steep. So my body has a memory of hiking to talk things out, I suppose.
But along the way, I grew into loving the nature part of it, too. I mean, I’ve always been a nature-loving kid. As a child, I used to bike down to the pond and sit melancholily painting my nails, where I was sure it was more romantic and inspired. Less dramatically, I have deeply imprinted memories of every tree and bush around the house we grew up in while living in St. Louis: I can still remember placing my Barbies in an elaborate tableau in the Japanese elm in our front yard, or climbing the maple tree feeling incredibly brave, or pulling pink crabapple blossoms off my grandmother’s trees to “spin” in my upside-down bike’s wheel, or finding my own Queen Anne’s lace in the backyard and feeling just like Anne of Green Gables, or essentially wanting to just live in the forsythia bush forever. Okay, I was still dramatic.
In college, I added running into the hiking part, for a couple years, anyway. But I was still going into the woods and meadows, rather than running on streets or fields. I found I could think more clearly surrounded by trees and grass and sunshine (no, I can’t do running in the rain…). Sometimes I listen to music, sometimes I don’t, but every time…I smell.
That’s probably my favorite part of hiking, when I stop to think about it like this: the smells. Nature smells amazing. Maybe it’s transporting me back to my childhood; maybe it’s just in contrast to the concrete jungle I call home. But the smells of honeysuckle, decaying leaves, damp soil, vanilla pines (when I’m home in Colorado), and a fresh breeze are magical. They lift me up out of my life for a split second.
This isn’t the first time I’ve written about smells, I know. They have such an effect on me! I used to dream, as a child, about having a house of 100 rooms, with each room a completely different scent, from cinnamon to hyacinth to sawdust to gasoline. Then I would be able to walk through them all, whenever I wanted to. (Erin Morgenstern’s beautiful novel, The Night Circus, almost captured that dream for me.)
It’s fitting that I just received this candle I bought on Amazon and am burning it for the first time while writing this blog. So, if you’ll excuse me…I’m going to dream of possibilities for a while.