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Waking the Senses

A Simple Walk to Remember

It was a horrible day: Tears, frustration, anger, harsh words, misunderstandings, and the list went on... My mind was reeling, but no thought stuck to my brain receptors, so I felt numb nothingness. In an effort to escape, I put on my jacket, walked down the stairs, and outside into the brisk October air. I found myself heading to one of the trails along Canmore's main roads. My head was only processing very basic thoughts:

"Just keep walking."

"Face the wind, it will be easier getting back."

"Where am I going? ... I don't care."

"Just keep walking."

After I passed a sign announcing that I was on Legacy Trail, I started noticing small annoyances and things to grumble about. -WOOSH- A bike passed me without warning, startling me out of my misery. I checked behind me for more traffic, but the path was empty. I passed an automated sign which read: Pathway Users Today: 54. "That's kinda low for a Sunday afternoon... although I have no idea if it is afternoon... I don't have a clock. Or a hat, this wind will hurt my ears eventually.... I am so unprepared, I can't even get ready for a walk... I am the only one dumb enough to be out for a walk on such a windy day."

-WOOSH- Another bike drove by, encouraging my negative thoughts to continue... "This place is so dead... the grass is dead, the leaves are gone, it's just like dead, flat Southern Alberta." Of course, all the while my eyes are firmly glued to the sidewalk I am walking on, or the lifeless blowing vegetation just next to the pathway. My eyes are also watering due to the wind in my face, along with my nose because of an unforgiving cold that I couldn't shake.

"Okay... this walk is supposed to clear my head. why can't I think? What is wrong with me? I am squinting at the path in front of me, eyes burning and tearing in the insistent breeze. I immediately fake a bright smile as a few bikers pass me going in the opposite direction. As soon as they are past, I retrain my attention to the swath of grass in between the pathway and the barricade.... Nothing. my head is blank. It is as if I had a central tower inside my head with an excessive amount of thoughts swirling around, but no way for the tower to send or receive those messages. So I kept walking.

As I continued further, my thoughts slowly went from negative grumblings to great big open ended questions that I had no answers for. "There is so much garbage along the road here... I could fill up a black bag in a matter of 5 minutes... the traffic is stupid too, there are no breaks in the cars coming from Banff at all... and the clouds rolling in mean that bad weather could be on the way...Where am I going?... and not just going now, but going in life? What am I doing? Why am I here? Who do I think I am?"

Those 4 questions were repeated in my head in rhythm with my steps for a long time before my mind shifted back to my present reality. Each time someone passed me, I would force a smile and sometimes even a friendly "hello!" I knew I was heading north towards the Banff South Entrance Gate. "How far am I going to go before I turn back?" I knew I had walked several kilometers already, and eventually I would have to walk back too, although the second part I quickly squashed out of my mind. I still needed to tire myself out, effectively releasing all the negativity and swirling mess that I carried inside my brain. So on I went.

Finally, after entering Banff Park, and striding up a steep hill, my body finally said "enough already," and I stepped off the path, and found a place to sit on a long fallen lodgepole pine log. I stared out over the valley in front of me, and at the mountains beyond the valley, covered in pines and peaked in snow patches. I sat there until my thoughts slowed and relaxed. Although still nothing registered, I felt more at peace, tired, and a bit sore from spontaneous exertion.

I made my way back up to my feet, and started back along the Banff Trail that I had come on. The sound of the traffic became relaxing, and the smiles to other pathway users came easier. The wind whined as it weaved around the steel fencing used to divide the path from the busy roadway. I noticed patterns in the mountain peaks and valleys, the shadows and type of rock they were constructed of. The brisk breeze, as I had originally anticipated, was behind me, and playfully wisped around my bare arms like a soft touch.

My eyes came off the pathway, and I started to appreciate the exceptional wonder around me. I seemed to pick up on inconspicuous details that are easily looked over. I noticed the smell of green... the pine trees and undergrowth... and the smell of yellow and brown... the falling leaves and the change in the seasons... and the icy smell that frost and cold were close by, evident by the small snow pockets hidden in the underbrush. I started to focus on tiny details... the leaves on the ground, some smaller than a dime, others larger than my hand. I picked out individual three inch needles of the pines along the trail. I noticed the tufts of fluffy seeds, still clinging to the frostbitten mother plants in the insistent wind.

Most notably, I was aware of the incredible range that nature has in colors. A crayon box confirms that green, yellow, brown, grey and white are colors, but a forest has ten thousand versions of green, which blends into five thousand variations of yellow, which in turn fades directly into the browns. Wet soil versus  dry soil... the colors in the rocks and stones along the path... the pathway itself with many integrated hues...

I was aware of old fallen branches, smooth and worn down by the rotating weather patterns. In contrast, I noticed the newly fallen limbs and twigs, with their gnarled bark and bumpy textures. Two ravens sat high in the air on a sunbleached crownless tree, watching me and the world passing around them. A startled animal quickly dove into the underbrush to hide along the path, all the while leaving a trail of sound to its approximate whereabouts. I noticed animal homes...perfectly round holes the size of a golf ball in the sides of trees, and burrows in the soft ground off the path in the brush.

As I neared the town and my sore muscles objected to the unscheduled exercise, the wind behind me became more insistent, as if to say "come on, you're almost there" Completed, I walked over 12 kilometers, and I felt better for doing so. It WAS a horrible day.


“Love the trees until their leaves fall off, then encourage them to try again next year.” Chad Sugg

"We cling to our own point of view, as though everything depended on it. Yet our opinions have no permanence; like autumn and winter, they gradually pass away." Chuang Tzu

"For man, autumn is a time of harvest, of gathering together. For nature, it is a time of sowing, of scattering abroad." Edwin Way Teale

"A few days ago I walked along the edge of the lake and was treated to the crunch and rustle of leaves with each step I made. The acoustics of this season are different and all sounds, no matter how hushed, are as crisp as autumn air." Eric Sloane

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Waking the Senses
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