I frequently wonder why I enjoy the solace and therapeutic value of a walk in the woods. A few weeks ago, a friend and I took her children out for a short walk up Artists Bluff in Franconia. Mid-hike, her oldest, Julia, turned around, looked at us, and asked, “You guys actually enjoy doing this??” I tried not to laugh, but this simple question left me reflecting back on the last two years of my life.
I’ve spent the last 20 plus years loving being a mother, every little bit of it. Sports, school plays, game nights, family outings; Everything my children were involved in I was right there beside them. Then, before I knew it, they were grown up. Nothing can prepare you for the day you send your oldest child to college. There is a hole left that cannot be replaced. Yes, they still come back for the summer, but it isn’t the same. So once the oldest left, I did my best and enjoyed every minute with my youngest. The summer before his senior year, my youngest was accepted into a 5 week academic summer program. I was excited and proud of him, but deep down I couldn’t help but think that my house was going to be without children for the first time in almost 20 years. The last thing I wanted to do was dwell on my feelings of sadness, so I made a commitment to myself to start climbing the 4000 footers in NH.
I reached the summit of thirteen 4000 footers in June and July 2016. I solo-hiked the Bonds Traverse. I hiked many miles, alone in my thoughts. Each step I took cleared my mind and strengthened my soul. I tested my physical and mental capabilities. My muscles were sore, my bones were aching, but my mind was clear and strong. I learned who I was beyond being a mother, wife and nurse. I remembered I liked to be alone. I love people, and I deeply love my family, but I am an introvert at heart. I recharged on these long solo hikes. I soaked it all in, birds chirping, tree branches swaying and creaking in the breeze, and I breathed in the sweet smells of wet leaves and pine needles in the forest air. I felt incredibly alive.
My husband and I picked up our son the end of July. He went back to work, then back to school to start his Senior year that fall. Meanwhile, I hiked any day I could find the time. I summited 11 peaks in August. I completed the remaining peaks in September and October. I completed the 48th peak solo on 10/24/16. My family cheered me on through texts and calls as I stood on the summit of Cannon. The rime ice coated the observation deck and the view of Franconia Ridge encrusted in rime was heavenly. I couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful view.
I learned so much about myself that summer and fall. I learned I was mentally and physically stronger than I thought I was. I learned it was “ok” to take time for yourself to do something you enjoy. I learned I could research, plan and complete a strenuous hike safely and independantly. I accepted that my children no longer needed me in the same way they did when they were younger. Yes, I was sad that they had grown so quickly, but I was grateful for all the wonderful memories we had as a family and look forward to spending time with my adult children. My husband and I had taught them to be compassionate, independant young adults. We were always available for guidance, love and ongoing support. I was grateful for my husband in so many ways. He supported me through all my crazy solo hiking traverse plans and was my own personal “car spot” taxi. He was the first person I talked to when I reached the summit of my 48th peak and he joined me at the 4000 footers awards ceremony to collect my certificate of completion.
My two adult “children” are now both attending UNH. My husband and I are official “empty nesters”. I am happy to report the mid-life crisis was averted in part due to following many miles of beautiful trails in the New Hampshires woods. I’m still meandering in the woods whenever I have the chance and am currently working on several hiking lists. The woods will forever be my place of solace and fulfillment.
“May your search through nature lead you to yourself”