I have a confession.
When I go for a walk, I call it a hike.
I only call it a walk if there is a black-and-white terrier involved. Which is ironic because then you could call it a pull, a drag, the Iditarod, or a squirrel hunt.
Also, in the confession category—I don’t like to walk with friends. (Sorry not sorry.) If our aim is to talk, let’s not be bumping shoulders on the sidewalk for a stroller to squeeze past or for the entire cross-country team of the local high school to stream around us like rocks in a river. Let’s relax on the front porch swing with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc, crusty French bread, and some cheese. Or, in a pinch, Pringles.
But the evidence that walking is good for you is overwhelming. I have a friend who, as a trauma physician, accumulated so much grief and emotional injury to his psyche that he walked 1,000 miles on the Pacific Coast Trail to heal his wounded soul. His boots leaked, the elevations were grueling, but he also encountered birdsong, stunning vistas, and trail angels—people who showed up at just the right moment with medical tape, steaming black coffee, cell phone chargers, and words of cheer. Sometimes they had set up stations at the approach to towns where they might be anticipated, but often they just appeared when most needed.
I had an experience with a trail angel of sorts, only the trail was a bridge after a hurricane. I was in a prolonged period of fear and ambivalence where I could not see the way forward when one night what began as a dream became something else–an experience in another dimension perhaps. You tell me.
I dreamed I was driving across the Spa Creek bridge with my dog, Kaya after a storm with hurricane-force winds had raised seawater levels to astonishing heights, far higher than even a storm at full moon pulls the tide.
The river was swollen so high that the bridge was submerged beneath several feet of creek water, and in my dream, the lanes no longer had guardrails. As I started to cross, I realized that without any reference points, I’d have to drive blind and just hope I stayed on the pavement beneath the water. If I turned the wheel even one foot in the wrong direction, I’d steer right off the invisible edge and sink.
This fear was realistic because, unaided, human beings are unable to navigate a straight line. We can fly drones on Mars and find our way to other galaxies, but without landmarks (a church steeple, a distant mountain peak, a constellation), we instinctively move in circles. No one knows why, but one theory is that every step contains a misstep that compounds over time without a landmark by which to course correct. Blindfolded or just lost in the forest, without a visual point of reference we naturally loop back on ourselves. We will never find our way out of the woods. Without help, we will never find our way home.
So, with all the sophistication of a 12-year-old, I got out of the car and stood in front of it, thinking perhaps I could feel my way by wading—I could walk a few feet at a time feeling the pavement beneath me, then get back in the car to drive those few yards, stop and repeat.
I was standing there debating the merits of this game plan when something enveloped me as gently as thought—with the substance of air—and tenderly lifted me right off my feet. Enfolded by light, held in spun gold, this force carried me up and up until I was maybe 30 feet in the air.
My sleeping self told my conscious self, “Something astounding is happening. Remember this,” just as the force began moving towards the east side of the creek. Stunned, I felt myself literally carried to the opposite shore, where I was tenderly lowered to the ground.
I woke up astonished, mentally reviewing the experience in order to translate its meaning. The sensation of being lifted and carried was unlike anything I’d ever experienced. But because the barrier between the materialized world we inhabit and the world of spirit from which we came is a foreign country, we have no common language. Communication with spirit is by necessity the very essence of sign language, with both its limitations and elegance.
I lay there puzzling out how to tell someone else what I’m telling you now. “Last night, I was carried over troubled waters,” I thought. “Something carried me from fear and confusion to the place I was trying to go.”
In the still of the night, with only the whisper of the fan overhead, I suddenly understood.
This was not a dream; it was a promise. Not just for me, but for all of us.
The earth spins through space in the key of B flat, elephants grieve their dead, heat lightning is a myth, but singing sand is real.
I want to understand all of it—every magical fact that is neither magic nor supernatural—but the mind-blowing nature of creation. How could I have lived most of my life not knowing most stars are binary? How could I have not understood the phases of the moon, or that compressed, the ozone layer that is the reason life even exists on this planet, is the thickness of two pennies? That the hottest stars in the universe are born and burn blue?
Look up, look up!
The pattern for everything is all around you. The whorl of fine hair on a baby’s head is the spiral of a nautilus, the spiraling arms of the galaxy embracing you. It is the circle in which you would inevitably walk without help, without landmarks. Without trail angels to inspire you. And you are mine.
Laura J. Oliver is an award-winning developmental book editor and writing coach, who has taught writing at the University of Maryland and St. John’s College. She is the author of The Story Within (Penguin Random House). Co-creator of The Writing Intensive at St. John’s College, she is the recipient of a Maryland State Arts Council Individual Artist Award in Fiction, an Anne Arundel County Arts Council Literary Arts Award winner, a two-time Glimmer Train Short Fiction finalist, and her work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Her website can be found here.