A few days ago, I stumbled upon a nature trail in my own backyard. My dog, Kokanee, hadn’t been on a long walk in a few weeks and I was feeling the guilt that many dog owners understand. We’d cross the street from my apartment complex to one of the north-end practice fields of Reed College, and reached the farthest point of our usual walk, when I decided to keep going. I’d seen students come up from this little gravel road and I assumed it was a shortcut from one side of campus to another. Midway down the rocky road, I noticed a trail off to the right. Curious, I led Kokanee down, and it wasn’t long before I found a sign that read, “Wildlife Habitat”. I got excited, but before I got too far, I thought about that fact that I didn’t have my phone and no one knew where I was. So, I led Kokanee back up the path to the gravel road and we headed home.
Today, we went back. It started raining last night and has been coming and going all day. When I told friends I was moving to Portland, most of them were concerned about the rain and how I would deal with the long, grey winters. I’ll admit, I am still a little worried about it. But whenever I worry about something I try to come up with a plan with how to deal with the anxiety if, and when, it comes. I asked myself what my biggest concern was about the ran. And the thing I came back to the most was the fear of feeling cooped up. I tried to think about it logically. I told myself that just because it was raining, wasn’t a reason to not go out. In fact, when it was raining, I would force myself to do even more than I would do on a perfectly sunny day. In comparison, I would never willingly go on a hike in the rain in North Carolina and I’ve already experienced one kinda dangerous rainy hike in Washington. But if I had that attitude here, I’d never hike again.
So this chance day off on a rainy Tuesday was the perfect opportunity to test myself. It rained steadily as we crossed the soccer field and headed down the gravel road. We took the right turn onto the path, passing a girl in a pink raincoat. Under the tree cover, the rain was more of a drizzle and I was actually a little warm in my layers. I stopped to take a selfie and when I pointed my camera at myself, I screamed. Behind me was the girl I’d passed. In my self-absorption, I hadn’t heard her following me. She began apologized for scaring me, but I was more embarrassed that someone had caught me taking a selfie in the woods. She showed me the map in her hands and asked me if I knew where the X was on her map labeled with the words “Gravel road”. I told her I was new to the area, and that the road we’d just left was the only one I could think of. Kokanee tugged on her leash, as squirrels darted for trees. I told the girl I would walk with her and help her look.Together, we went continued on the path. Then came a fork — we went left and arrived at paved road ringed by academic buildings. We waved down a maintenance man in a little cart, who looked at the map, and pointed us down a hill. Back into the wilderness we went, until again we came out on another side of the campus. Still not sure that this was what we were looking for, I asked the girl if she had any of her classmates numbers, and she said she did. She said she would continue toward civilization, and thanked me. Kokanee and I turned back into the woods.
The trail went uphill and then downhill and I reached the stream that I could hear from the original path. I followed it under a bridge and the trail began to climb again. Kokanee was in heaven, her tail and ears pointed to the sky, her nose twitching at all the new smells. Soon we came upon a little waterfall — just an outcrop of rocks and quick splash of water, but beautiful all the same. Beside it was a log bench. Kokanee sniffed around while I took in the scene. It was hard to believe I was only a mile from my home, blocks from the center of the city. It was hard to believe, that just beyond these trees the campus was bustling with students going to and from class. All I could hear was the rush of the water and the occasional plunk plunk of the rain on my raincoat.
I wondered if the girl found where she was supposed to be. I wondered how cold the water was that ran by in the stream, though I did not wonder enough to stick my hand in to find out. I’d forgotten how being among trees, ferns, and dirt paths could be a balm for any ailment, physical or emotional. I stopped worrying about the weather and work, I forgot everything. I took pictures of plants so I could look them up later. I convinced myself that the one plant I touched was poison ivy. I let Kokanee explore until satisfied she came back to sit at my feet. I was content.
We headed for home, and it wasn’t long before we reached the part of the trail I remembered. On we walked, leaving the little stream behind us and soon I could hear people talking, and other signs of life. As I reached the entrance to the trail I noticed a cluster of students, some clutching the same map that the girl had. She’d been in the right place all along. I hoped that she hadn’t walked too far in the wrong direction, that she’d called someone who told her to come back. Kokanee tugged me toward home and I followed.