The woods are not quiet. White blankets the trail and the surrounding mountain slope, hiding the dried leaves and pine cones crunching under our feet. Rushing water from a nearby stream—nature’s white noise. My wife comments, “I’ve been trying to recreate that sound on my iPhone, so far failing miserably.” Wind whistles through the firs. Birds chirp. Dogs bark. The woods are not quiet, but they are peaceful.
The renewal reminder for robertjrichey.com started me thinking about how little I’ve written since returning from India. There were opportunities: interesting anecdotes; work-related blather; people and events begging for critical analysis. Like the woods, life is not quiet. It is clamorous—metaphysically as far from the woods as one can get without drowning. It is not peaceful.
Lately when I write work creeps in to the narrative. It’s difficult to separate from the toxicity—see, it happened again. I’m writing this at 2:00 AM after another sleepless night thinking about it. Rather than infect the prose, I’ll usually walk away. Not tonight.
I like the Pacific northwest and the Sierra Nevada mountains. The sweet smell of evergreens; light, powdered sugar falls from the sky, a chilly reminder of childhood on the back of my neck; views of a crystal blue lake from atop a mountain peak; chickadees chirping in the trees before gliding down to feed off seeds in my palm; the wind rustling through the pines; the smell of a natural fireplace as the temperatures dip into the twenties. I’m taken back to simpler times before mobile phones and morally bankrupt bosses. One can be lost in the woods without actually being lost.
Our band of hikers is as different as they are alike. Some chat about life, careers, family, hopes, history, aspirations, vacation ideas, kids, dogs, politics. Others are content to quietly contemplate—silent landscape observers. We share a love of the outdoors and being together.
I’m out of practice. The altitude (7,000 feet) and the glacial air burns my lungs. I force myself to disregard the nagging if not slight ache taking root just behind my eyes. Deep breaths, slow down, look up at the trail ahead, breathe, breathe. Pushing on means better views and the chance at breathtaking sights from the summit. It hurts in a way that makes it worth the effort—like finishing a marathon (in my case, a half-marathon) or ending an eight hour, rain-soaked hike in the Highlands at a pub, clothes drying by the fire, hot soup and cold beer.
Out of practice also means no toilet paper or summit beverages. The former we mitigate with patience and iron bladders, while the latter is remedied by our local traveling companion and cousin whose seasoned hiking preparations include celebratory carbonated beverages for all. We picnic near Rose Knob Peak with stunning views of north Lake Tahoe, the sun competing with the falling mercury for our attention. The sun and beers win the day.
After, we stop at Alibi Brewing’s Public House. Vegan platters and not-so-vegan fries swimming in bacon and beer cheese pair nicely with our stories and plans for tomorrow. A solid stout and unique sours round out the pre-dinner snack. The nights bring Cribbage in the comfort of a natural fire and a hot toddy, the lemon-honey cocktail blending with the sweet smell of burning pine in the fireplace. We’re all sleepy. The day is almost over. Tomorrow we’ll walk the woods again.
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Unless otherwise noted, I drew or took the photographs in the article—as lame as they may look. Any unintentional resemblance to persons living or dead is just plain scary. Copyright can be found here for my original work.