After 33 years of working, running, playing, eating and singing under the overlooking shadow of Bramley Mountain, just across the river from the farm, I finally climbed to the top of it this week. I never knew there was a hiking trail there, just 5 minutes from my house.
I love being alone in the woods, with just the trees and the birds and the occasional red eft as my companions. It quiets me. After my mom died, I sought refuge in the trees, spending Saturday afternoons alone, walking, hiking, crying, returning to myself. So it was a natural thing for me to do on the third anniversary of my mom’s passing, to go to the woods.
The trail was delightful, passing by a small pond, a sunny quarry, foreboding caves, and rich contours of rock before giving a view north of the valley I know, and a view south of a more expansive look into the “real” Catskills. As I began ascending the mountain, I checked my phone and got distracted by the farm and family below the mountain. The cows are in the river! My 89-year-old grandmother exclaimed. Sorry, I’m on top of a mountain, I let her know. Feeling slightly guilty but resigned to the circumstances and knowing that my sister-in-law, Liz, was on the way, I continued down the mountain.
The whole time I was hiking, I couldn’t quite get my bearings as to what direction I was going. And so even though it felt slightly wrong to be heading straight down the other side when the trail seemed like it curved back around to where my car was waiting for me, the feeling didn’t quite translate into thoughts that maybe I was going the wrong way until I came to a posted sign marking the end of the conserved area I was in, and indicating that I was now in Bovina, a neighboring town. Oops! I rolled my eyes at my foolishness and distractedness and headed back up the mountain. Oh yeah, I thought. I haven’t seen one of those red trail markers in awhile.
It wasn’t too long before I found the red marker with an arrow clearly pointing right that I had missed, presumably while looking at my phone. I completed the hike, stopping for a snack of the abundant blackberries that spread across the hill.
And it wasn’t lost on me the significance of having to adjust course. The last year of my life has been one big course adjustment, realizing that I was heading the wrong way, and having to go through deep pain to get to the other side towards Joy again.
“It is not will that pushes from behind
but joy that calls me forward.
Joy that I can be of use,
a refuge for the wanderer,
a shelter in the storm.
Today I remove the veil
between my fear and my future
Today I say YES to the voices beyond
calling me home”
-Borderless, Jan Phillips
One thing I’ve noticed recently is how when things are slightly off – when a meeting is missed and rescheduled, an apartment is exactly what I’m looking for but not available to me, a job seems like a perfect fit but not for the employer, a scholarship isn’t given – another door opens that is more aligned with my deepest truth.
What has helped me most in following these winding paths is noticing. Noticing when something feels right and easy, and noticing when there’s a nagging “Maybe this isn’t quite right but I don’t know” feeling. Being in the woods, where the oxygen is plenty and the scenery delightful to my eyes, where the trees stand as majestic guides for my journey, allows me to listen. Is it to myself? Is it to the trees? I’m not sure there’s a difference between myself and the trees.
“Wherever you stand, be the soul of that place.” - Rumi
I am deeply grateful to the trees and the Mountain and to this place for their guidance, their patience as I course-correct, and their faith in little ole’ me making her way through the world.