By Barb Arland-Fye
Our family’s favorite hiking trail is a meandering dirt path on a Mississippi River bluff. Trees form a canopy over our trail and leafy vegetation brushes against our jeans as we negotiate uneven rock steps, climb over a fallen tree limb and hug an outcrop to avoid falling into the ravine. We might see other hikers along the way and step aside for them, but otherwise we savor the peace of nature, listening to the birds sing, the breeze whispering in the leaves and enjoy the sun peeking through the woods.
The natural obstacles are not a burden, but an opportunity to rediscover our closeness as a family, our dependence on each other. When our sons Colin and Patrick were young children, my husband Steve and I held their hands tightly and sometimes carried them if their legs needed a rest. Since Patrick, our younger son, reached adulthood he has taken the role of leader on our family hikes. As he descends a rock step, notices an unusual drop in the path or crosses a log, he turns around to offer Colin a hand. Once Colin is on the other side of the log or some other natural obstacle, he turns around to extend a hand to me. Then I offer Steve a hand.
Gratitude fills me up. All of us meet intangible obstacles in life, and sometimes we reach out to one another for help. The tangible obstacles on our trail provide practice for the journey outside the woods and bluffs. “You have to be careful of poison ivy and other hazards, like rocks,” Patrick said. The reward is closeness to God and family while savoring the beauty of God’s creation.
“There’s a canopy, the natural shade of the trees. You can hear the birds and other animals, the rustling of leaves. I like the overlooks of the river. It makes you feel like you’re in God’s country. We’re able to hike together; we help each other out,” Patrick continued. “It’s just us, it’s kind of quiet. We get a chance to reflect and to forget all about the other stuff,” Steve said.
Colin treasures family time and walking with us always seems to calm his autistic mind. “It’s pretty awesome,” he said of our hiking experiences on the trail. “I like going through the woods. They are green and beautiful.” When Patrick reaches out his hand, Colin said he knows that Patrick “really likes me.” Having Mom and Dad right behind Colin makes him feel happy.
For me, our travels on the unpaved path capture time in a bottle. I can open this bottle in my mind’s eye to relive the joy, the grace and peace of family at our very best. A passage from Pope Francis’ encyclical “Laudato Si” (On Care for Our Common Home), sums up my feelings best:
“As the Catechism teaches: ‘God wills the interdependence of creatures. The sun and the moon, the cedar and the little flower, the eagle and sparrow: the spectacle of their countless diversities and inequalities tells us that no creature is self-sufficient. Creatures exist only in dependence on each other, to complete each other, in the service of each other” (p. 37).
(Contact Editor Barb Arland-Fye at email@example.com)