I was reminded of that saying, “Stop and smell the roses” this weekend, as I was leading a guided wildflower walk. The entire point of a wildflower walk is to stop and smell, look or touch the flowers along the way, one of which literally is a wild rose. I had never led a guided wildflower walk, and was shocked how little trail we covered over the course of 1 1/2 hours. But it reminded me how fulfilling it can be to really enjoy the journey and what you see along the way rather than focusing on the destination.
This brought to mind a recent book I had read, “The Last Season.” My first year I worked in a national park was the summer of 1996 at Sequoia National Park. It was also the summer of a rather traumatic event, when one of the long-time backcountry rangers, Randy Morgenson, went missing while out on patrol. I was new to the whole life in a national park thing, but you quickly realize how people who live and work in national parks become something of a community. Randy was never found that summer, and it wasn’t until several years later that some hikers found his remains in the backcountry. But the book is really more about him as a person, and examines more closely life as a backcountry seasonal ranger. One of my favorite chapters detailed how much Randy enjoyed the little things while out on patrol — the flowers, the wildlife, the colors of the alpenglow on the mountains — something he frequently captured with photography. The book also described how he tried to share this viewpoint with the visitors he would meet on the trails and how he despised what he called the “Trail Pounders.” He defined Trail Pounders as people who were just pounding down the trail oblivious to the things along the way, just trying to get down the trail as quickly as possible, to reach their destination.
I got a chuckle out of this because we have a friend from back east who is the quintessential definition of a “trail pounder.” He once came to visit us, and described how he relishes pounding the trail, in particular he likes to pass other people on the trail, and “crush their souls.” He went on with relish, saying he particularly took great joy in doing this, with his end goal to make them give up hiking because of how demoralized they were. Though I suppose there was an element of facetiousness in what he said, he also seemed to take great pleasure in telling us this, and all I could do is feel sadness.
As I get older, I definitely have taken on the philosophy of Randy. This summer, with an ever keener interest in wildflowers, it has made my hikes longer, but that much more joyful, as I take note of every little flower and plant, seeing tiny flowers close to the ground I had never noticed before. And I, like Randy, have found my hikes and journeys in the mountains have connected me to the spirit of wilderness in ways I never knew before.