It’s Friday morning. The day I get all the things done before the weekend. Typically, the eventual sense of accomplishment is enough to propel me out of bed and into a flurry of activity.
Pick up all the toys.
Strip the beds.
Load the washer.
Collapse on the couch for lunch.
However, on this particular Friday morning, rather than energetically tackling my day, all I can do is lay in the early morning light… avoiding the thick fog of doom that awaits me. The pressure to tame the wild beast that is my house. That is my life.
Eventually, the promise of a blessed cup of warm beige coffee lures me out of my room and down the stairs. I fill the coffee pot, spoon in some grounds and vaguely recall a conversation with an Alpine Shop store clerk a few weeks back.
That day, I was strolling through Columbia and stopped in the store to drool over backpacks and camping gear way too expensive for me to even consider. As I perused, a sweet woman asked if I’d like her to grab one of the Osprey packs so I could try it on.
I chuckled to myself.
What’s the use? I can’t afford it…and even if I could, how could I even do it? Backpack? Alone? For days at a time? What would my husband do? Or my daughter? I’d come home and have triple the work on my hands. Please.
Despite my skepticism, I humored her and we chatted while adjusting the straps. She mentioned a place she likes to go sometimes to hike and camp. She explained that it’s down by the river just a few miles out of town. But that it’s gorgeous, secluded, and free. A great place to practice, she said.
I smiled. I told her it sounded nice and that I’d like to visit someday.
The sound of brewing coffee jolts me back to my kitchen.
Me. Alone. Asphyxiating on my life. And I immediately knew what I had to do.
Screw the laundry.
Screw the dirty house.
suicide hotline expensive house cleaner we can’t afford. She’s available. Hallelujah.
Before she arrives, I make my plan. Download a map. Tie on my hiking shoes. Fill my water bottles. Pack my snacks.
What if I hate it?
What if I get lost?
What if I love it and never want to come back?
Pushing my questions aside, the doorbell rings.
savior house cleaner has arrived.
I give her instructions and nervously walk to my getaway car. I double check my supplies hoping I have enough.
As I drive, Missouri’s rural glory fills my eyes. Fall’s beauty is emerging – bits of red and amber peeking through the bright green leaves. I gulp it down like a rich glass of my favorite pinot noir. My muscles relax – one by one. I am almost there.
Wind down a secluded gravel road. Small wooden sign. Non-descript trail-head. Am I in the right place?
Heart pounding, mind spinning. Worried I will get lost. Worried I will get hurt. Worried I will do it wrong and be ridiculed. How sad it is that the last item is the one that scares me the most.
That others’ perception of me and the quality of my performance somehow trumps my own physical safety.
That just like the spotless house and dapperly-dressed family, I desperately want to avoid failure. More than I want to take care of myself…
In my solitude, I am forced to rely on my own brain and the gear I have with me. Thankful for the navigation skills I learned in childhood, I consult my trail app to gain my bearings. I stuff a protein bar in my pocket and grab one of the two water bottles I brought with me. I lock the car and make my way to the tiny rocky path that lies before me.
One step. Two steps. Check the map. Ten steps. Fifteen steps. Check it again. Relief washes over me when I realize the highlighted path of my footsteps perfectly match the trail’s trajectory. I’m doing it. I’m out here all alone and I’m completely fine.
Until the sharp urge to urinate pings me in the gut.
Shit. I forgot the p-style.
And then I hear sounds coming from farm equipment in the distance. I’m not alone. Double shit.
Quickly, I search for a hidden nook near the path. I find a downward slope covered in brush, surrounded by trees. I cautiously point my backside down the hill, drop my pants and squat.. praying my bare butt isn’t visible across the valley. After a few shaky moments, I’m finished. I survived. And I’m still alone, as far as I can tell.
I continue along the trail and take comfort in the soft tree cover and subtle sounds of wildlife. I have a few podcasts and some music to listen to, but the thoughts in my mind and the symphony of bird chirps and squirrel scuffles are enough to keep me occupied.
I pass a few freshly used fire-pits and am reminded of my conversation with the Alpine Shop lady. She mentioned that camping is a popular activity out here at Three Creeks. The evidence of recent habitation comforts me.
The tree boughs have begun to thin, and I enjoy brief overlooks from the top of the rock bluff I’m apparently standing on. With each view, I’m stunned to realize how little I had to travel to arrive in such majesty. Such a surprise.
The path turns inward, and as life’s journey tends to do, the path leads up a rocky slope and to a swath of tall green grass. It’s bright and clean, yet I am nervous. I can’t see past my ankles and I imagine the snakes that must be slithering about. I pull my feet up higher and let them fall heavier to the ground with each step – hoping the impact will alert any serpents of my presence. It seems to work.
I bravely continue on.
A clearing in the trees opens up before me. Meadows boasting tall lush prairie grass on each side of the trail. I drink in the open sky and take in a huge breath.
I am emerging.
As I round the bend, my breath is immediately taken by the bright yellow blanket covering the earth. Glittering goldenrod as far as I can see. I stop and stare, unable to walk. Then I see tiny wings flitting about. Monarchs. Brilliant specks in a sea of gold. The sparkling jewels adorning the meadow’s crown.
I am in love.
I am free.
I am a monarch emerging from my oppressive chrysalis, bathing in the warm sunlight. My only care is choosing the next bloom to inspect. I am not distracted. I am not scared. I am not worried how others perceive and judge me. I am captivated in this moment. I don’t want it to end.
I look down at my watch and sadly realize it’s time to turn back. To fold up my wings and climb back into the life with the chores and the lists. To the errands and the responsibilities. To a house so full of busyness, I can barely breathe.
I remind myself that what I have done today is good. I feel proud that I am strong enough… smart enough… secure enough to handle myself alone in the woods. I have filled my tank and am ready for another round.
I turn around to make my way back to the trail head and try to enjoy the opposing view from where I have come. The journey seems shorter and less intimidating – now that I know what’s here. Now that I am unafraid.
Soon, I spot my car beyond the trail head and walk to the door. I turn and gaze back at the trail. I’m sad that it’s over. I’m dreading the life I will return to. Through my reluctance, I know that no matter how far I travel from this place, I can always go back to Three Creeks, even if it’s only in my mind. I can remember what it taught me. That capturing and harnessing the courage to spread my wings is scary at first, but lifesaving in the end.