Well, we did it.
On a chilly, overcast morning a week after the autumnal equinox, we hit the trail with the tallest member of our family for our fifty-second walk.
That designation—fifty-second walk—created some consternation among our party. My son argued ardently that the hike had taken much more than fifty seconds, and it took us a while to calm him down enough for him to understand that we were referring to the ordinal number 52nd, not measuring time.
Looking at the corn stalks going brown, though, I realize that we have been sort of measuring time on our hikes. We weren’t measuring it in seconds or minutes or even in weeks, although we counted them, but by our footsteps in mud and on dry ground, and the changing leaves, and the migration of the geese, and the falling and melting of the snow, and the rise and fall of the creek.
I don’t know what I expected from this final hike of the year. Whatever it was, it was something bigger than what we got. The sky was cloudy, the birds subdued, and the creek flowing but slow. Things just kept on doing what they were doing.
If I’d thought more about it, this is just what I would have expected. Nature doesn’t mark anniversaries the way we do, with celebratory reflections on the past and thoughts toward the future. Earth just keeps on rotating on its axis and traveling around the Sun, cycling through the seasons and bringing greater height and understanding to children and more wrinkles and gray hair and—hopefully—wisdom to adults. The fact that we visited that trail every week for a year (except the week we were out of town) is of no significance to the goldenrod or the maples or the milkweed bugs.
We saw one big change in the trail this week: A new picnic table, complete with an identification plaque, to replace the one that was smashed by a falling tree several weeks ago.
The table might have significance to hikers seeking a rest or a spot from which to look out at the curve of the river, but even a table with its own plaque doesn’t matter much to the red-tailed hawks or to the meadow.
What strikes me this week is how anonymous we are to the trail and the land through which it travels. It means much more to us than we do to it. Which is as it should be.
I don’t know what comes next. Both kids want to keep hiking, but whether on this trail or another, whether every week or more or less often, we haven’t decided. My son wants to hike every day for a year. Then he wants to hike from the North Pole to the South Pole (with the aid of a boat across the watery spots).
I suspect mine might be the right kind of kids to take on an epic hike. We’ll see what we can do.