Learning the Hard Way

by Linda Hudson Hoagland
(North Tazewell, Virginia)

My feet crunch the green grass, bending it over forcing it to bow in my presence. I place one foot in front of the other, leaning forward a bit from the weight of the pack I have shouldered onto my back.

I'm following a stream of water, the life blood of the area, as I walk along watching the wonders of the world pass before my eyes.

Hiking for me is a solitary pleasure.

I prefer the companionship of only one other person or no companions at all. Too many people take away the awe and reverence I feel toward the beauty that stretches before me. I don't want to become too distracted by conversations to really see what nature and the mountains of southwest Virginia have to offer for all to see, to live, and to love.

The ruggedness of the mountainous terrain gives way to the open expanses of the green fields along the stream that leads me to another expanse of rugged mountainous terrain.

I have learned how long to climb and walk before darkness falls to cover the path and hide its secrets from me.

A memorable moment in the not too distant past occurred when I was wandering around not paying any mind to the time or the darkness that was creeping in around the edges of my day. I was searching for rocks of distinction, arrow heads, and fossils, so I was roaming around under the trees where the darkness was already present.

The leaves and branches of the trees formed a canopy over my head, blotting out the light allowed through the thick clouds on an overcast day. I was crawling around on the ground scratching at the earth, digging at the rocks I could see as I followed the small beam of the pen sized flashlight that I carried in my pocket.

When I finally focused on my surroundings, I realized it was dark and not just a little dark. Those clouds that had gathered above the canopy of tree limbs and leaves had blotted out the moon and stars, so it was totally dark. My flash light was so weak from use while I was scratching around the ground, that I turned it off to conserve what little light I had remaining.

I knew I was where I had to be for the night.

I leaned against a tree and tried not to think about the sounds of the lonely, dark night. I could hear the birds as they rustled around getting themselves settled. The lonely "hooo – hooo" was echoed through the darkness from an owl as it searched for food.

I could hear the skittering of toe nailed feet of small animals as they scrambled around in the trees. I hoped those animals were squirrels and nothing larger.

I was resting uncomfortably in bear country. Bears also scrambled around in trees.

My mind wandered to the snakes that I couldn't hear and insects that were ever present in the layer of leaves of vegetation that was fermenting under my body.

Finally, exhaustion overcame my fear and I slept fitfully until the first light of dawn peeked through the leaves and branches.

I vowed to never allow that to happen again.

The next step on my learning curve led me to the need to know and recognize the greenery that was growing around me.

I was walking in an area that had been well tended and the brush and weeds had been cut back so the hiker would be able to look down into the trickling water of the creek. Along the creek bank after a brief rain, I started to slip down the bank toward the water. As I slid down the bank, I reached to grab a root to stop my downward momentum.

In no time at all, after I scrambled back up the creek bank, without the foresight of washing my hands in the creek, I discovered that I had encountered the evil poison ivy plant. The root that I had grabbed to prevent my fall was what remained of the plant. The green leaves had been cut away but the root was very, very potent. Of course, I was highly susceptible to Mother Nature's wrath.

Needless to say, I had poison ivy everywhere before the end of the day. My sweating and climbing had only made matters worse.

Later that day and week I spent a great deal of time searching the shelves of drug stores and pharmacies for the best cure. Finally, several days after my encounter with the wicked root, I was rid of my problem. I had poured bottle after bottle, brand after brand, of liquid relief onto the itchy, watery, spreading like wildfire bumps.

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