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Stormy hills - A story

How wanderlust is not a walk in the park.

August 2020

The elements are there for a dramatic story. The weather is good: sunny with a few cloudy spots. You stand at the start of a hike that is indicated to last about ninety minutes. You are aware that a storm is brooding and will arrive in sixty minutes. What do you do? You philosophize about life, what else?

You first remind yourself rightly so that the indicated time cannot hold true for everyone, you may have a much faster pace and be back in time, and that a prediction of a storm is only that so its intensity and time of arrival may not be accurate.

There are things that you do not consider. There is a shorter route that will last sixty minutes. You can turn back and wait this one out. No, what you do consider is far more important. At the start of the route you can go clockwise or counter-clockwise. In front of you there is a small abyss. There is no indicated preferred or assigned direction and right at the start you have to decide how you will experience the hike. If you counter that, really, it does not matter since the beginning and the end are the same. Think again; at every position you will see something completely different, unless you walk backwards. You arrive at the same position at different times with different conditions and different previous experiences.

You choose to engage the false dilemma between clockwise and counter-clockwise and leave other options of breaking free of the indicated route altogether for another time. Two runners pass by and take the clockwise route. You feel a cultural bias towards counter-clockwise as you recall oval track races and track & field races going anti-clockwise. But that is mainly to accommodate spectators in seeing the athletes move from left to right which is a culturally ambiguous idea for going forward. But other races are going clockwise and it makes sense to go forward in the direction that time is moving on a clock. In mathematics angles are measured counter-clockwise. Still you feel counter-clockwise is the most natural way to go, which might have to do with being left- or right handed and rather having the abyss on your left side.

But also do not forget that two runners went clockwise. Since they seem to have come here more often it makes sense to follow their lead. On the other hand you may want to seem defiant and pick counter-clockwise for that reason. It must be noted if everyone would go in one direction, you would meet far fewer people on the way. The chance of meeting the people that walk the other direction on your hike is a hundred percent (assuming they follow the route), while as for people that pick your direction, you will only meet those people if they walk significantly slower than you. This is life. You constantly meet people that oppose you, or that agree with you but can’t keep up.

You start your hike in the clockwise direction. A path among pine trees winds before you, the hillside on your left and the valley-side on your right. You realize that a walk in the hills is a magical experience. As the path winds it goes up and then down, the hillside hides the surprise of what lies beyond. On the other side, occasional openings in the vegetation give you windowed vistas of the larger area.

You stop to ponder. If the hike is a metaphor for life and the path is my way, then what is the landscape I am walking on. First, you realize that you are walking a fixed route on a well maintained path and that you have options at several interceptions but choose to follow you path. While you may feel trapped by the path, especially when a steep hill or cliff are your alternatives, you could choose to ignore the paths altogether. That is a way to live too. But more importantly, you look out into the vistas and see other hilltops and faraway lowland that you will not visit today. you are walking on an optimization landscape with ups and downs. While you may want to be on a hilltop at all times, the path still goes up and down and you can only go from one hill to another by crossing or edging a local valley. By looking at the other hilltops, you may not see the valleys in between. You may or may not imagine yourself standing on that next hilltop, but you do know that the view from there will be different than you will imagine anyway. You remind yourself to let this be an exercise in taking perspectives.

As you move on there is a perfect vista with a bench placed neatly by the authorities so that you can take up the view as it was intended. As you approach this vista point you notice a girl sitting in silence on that bench, motionless. You consider sitting next to the girl to also take up the view. You could strike up a conversation and share the beauty of the view and life. But the view of the girl in the vista only enhances the beauty and stillness and you assume that the odds are high that she sits there in peace and silence to ponder something important you should not be interrupting and that contact would only lead to disappointment and breaking down of the beauty of the current situation.

wanderlust-girl-witha-view

As you move on, you start to notice that others you meet appear hurried and unnerved, and you are reminded of the impending doom with the torrential rains that is closing up on you. You are not sure when it will hit exactly but you have already accepted the fact that it would coincide with your hike.

You have reached the low point in your journey and see the same vista as you saw at the top of the hill on the first part of your journey. The same view, a different perspective. Climbing again to return to your starting point takes effort, more effort than the way down. You consider that life can be, in extreme, two different hero’s journeys. One starting at the top, spiraling down to its lowest point, only to climb up steeply with a lot of effort and adversity. Conversely, you start at the bottom working yourself up to great heights with ample energy and then are forced to slide down effortlessly back down. In both cases you arrive where you started but as a different person. While your route started at the top, in reality the hike could have started at any point. Also, while being down here you admire and recognize that the scenery down here may look more dull it is pleasing and beautiful in its own right, after all it was what you were also looking at from up the hill.

Ever since the beginning of your hike, you are hearing a sound. A noise to be more precise. One of an engine roaring. This story has not mentioned it before so as to not ruin your perception of the beautiful hike and scenery and its implications on life. The sound was and is annoying and it is now much louder. You stand still to think about it a bit longer. In an area teeming with life, in vegetation, birds, creepy crawlers and shy critters, the only sound that can be heard everywhere is this annoying unnatural sound of a human made machine suppressing the expression of the area’s true nature. You decide to let the annoyance go but do realize that your thoughts are fuzzier and sometimes interrupted by the sound in a way that rustling leaves and fluttering or tweeting birds do not.

As you cross the valley below you suddenly find yourself in the middle of an open field, and where the hillside seemed like the path kept you prisoner the open field is fare more terrifying. There is no shelter if the storm hits now, lightning will find me as the highest point, people from around can see me and plan an ambush if they want. This feeling of nakedness and loneliness comes to an end when at the end of the field you meet the man with the engine. He is pruning a small piece of nature with this engine to fit its liking, he is a caretaker of the park. You consider explaining to him that his noise ruins the experience of the entire park. But his ears are muffed with protectors and he is doing his work, my explanation would only lead to guild without an effect.

The path is leading up again. A magical belief suddenly comes over you that the storm will actually not come, it just does not feel like it will happen to you. Not long after, the signs of the storm are starting to become ever more clear. The sky darkens ominously. Thunder rumbles far away sometimes lasting thirty seconds, which means that the lightning probably travelled from cloud to cloud and the difference between the nearest and furthest point was at least ten kilometre. You hear the occasional droplet cascade down tree leaves. Magical feelings have that inconvenient property of feeling so damn right, and often being so damn wrong at the same time.

Still you decide to make a small detour. You hear a rustling brook and consider that the romantic picture of a hike in the hills is not complete without the peaceful rustling of a small stream. Obediently it follows its path downwards, unlike us, never to go up on its own accord. You follow the stream for a short while as you inevitable encounter a small bridge to cross the stream. What is less inevitable and more surprising is that a bit further you find a cemetery half hidden in the forest, half-connected with the rest of the world.

Two parents and three children pass you by rather loudly, unaware of the impending doom. Are they not seeing the signs of the storm or do they simply not care? Should you consider them naive and therefore rightful to be caught up in the rains in a while. Or is this carelessness what makes them happy, will the rain not harm them and is it you that imagine this whole event to be far more dramatic than it really is?

The rain starts to pour down more relentlessly and the thunder becomes louder and shorter. The trees actually protect you quite a lot from the downpour and only in clearings do you feel the consequences of the wetness. Maybe this story is really less dramatic than it seemed. The lack of drama is replaced by a sadness and a loneliness. The forest is quiet, the engine has stopped roaring, and you do not see any other hikers anymore. Have they returned in time; how and when did that happen? What did you miss?

You walk on towards the starting point of the hike while you are becoming wetter and wetter and more exhausted from the steep climb. There is less observing and thinking about life and more surviving and coping.

You have made it back. You are wet but you survived. You suppose that a hike does not fully represent life after all. You consider a shower, a change of clothes, a snack and a nap. Now there are activties to philosophize about.