We had a big outing Sunday. After dropping our completed ballots off at an official box on a nearby community college campus my husband and I headed for a forested hiking trail. Since the trees in Pennsylvania had begun their turning, I longed to be up close and surrounded by their glorious transformation. I knew the hiking part would be a stretch given the physical therapy I’d been doing to fix the “hitch in my get-along.”

Looking at the three-mile loop on the trail map I figured I could do it if I just moved slower than my usual pace. We were in no hurry. I did hear the voice of my physical therapist suggesting, “Walk half as far as you judge would be comfortable, then turn around and walk back. That way you won’t get stranded.” I’m not sure why but that didn’t sound as adventurous as I wanted to be. 

The Western Conservancy’s Tom’s Run Nature Preserve did not disappoint. I stopped often, sometimes to step carefully on the stones to cross the meandering creeks, sometimes looking ahead and upward to take in the shimmering colors and intricate sculpture of the tall trees. I tried to capture the beauty on my cell phone, but the frame of my device was inadequate to contain the vastness of what I saw through the lenses of my own eyes.

Walking a bit and then stopping to take in the enchanting scenes it felt as though we had entered a sacred cathedral. Only the twirling leaves hitting the ground after being windblown from their branches disturbed the silence. “This two will pass,” I thought. It won’t be long now till this kaleidoscope of color becomes ground cover for the forest floor. Focused on the beauty around us we didn’t take proper note of the changes in elevations on the trail. Besides its curving switchback nature, the trail climbed upward and downward often, sometimes quite dramatically.

When we got half-way, ignoring the advice of my PT, we elected to continue on to complete the circle of the loop. Sometime after that decision we met another hiker coming from the opposite direction. Seeing a study man carrying a young infant and accompanied by a 3-year old child, we assumed the end of the loop must be close at hand. But he reported he’d been on the trail for over an hour, which was how long we’d been on it from the other direction. The ordeal we had unknowingly given ourselves was formidable.

Extremely steep climbs took away my breath and confidence. The cool air on the lower levels refreshed and replenished my energy, only to have it taken away by the next demanding climb. Telling myself,” this too will pass” gave me some encouragement during the challenging phases of the hike, when, like this time of Covid, it seemed our journey would have no end.

Pressing on  seemed to create a second wind, something I hadn’t felt for a long time. Picking up the pace begin giving me energy, in the way my dance teacher used to say, “Dancing doesn’t take energy, it makes energy.” When we finally made it down the mountain and to the parked car I was grateful for the work I’d done getting my body back in condition to make the trek. After visiting this monument to impermanence, I know better than to be certain I could ever do it again.