At age 35, it would be nice if I finally understood how time works. Instead, this is what it looks like when I try to take a late afternoon hike:
90 minutes before sunset: Intend to go hiking.
50 minutes before sunset: Actually leave to go hiking.
40 minutes before sunset: Arrive at destination and proceed to walk original intended distance, due to inflexibility.
10 minutes before sunset: Run to cover more ground until darkness makes this an unwise course of action.
Sometime after sunset on the line between dusk and night: Arrive back at car with no dire consequences having befallen me, thus reinforcing that I can get away with this, whether or not I actually like it.
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Even though I enjoy exploring the woods beyond the beaten, dog shit-lined path, I like trail markers.
Maybe it’s simply the sight of a colorful splotch of paint on rough tree bark.
Maybe it’s the secret code aspect of trail sign, bits of twigs arranged in symbols and arrows, miniature rock cairns reassuring you that “this is the way.”
Maybe it’s because I’ve been a hiker my whole life. I can remember all the way back to when I was three years old, running through the woods, ahead of the rest of my family, following the bright paints. Because the trail markers showed me where to go, I could run from the hot sun to the relief of tree-shade and be safe, cool, and alone for a moment, until my family showed up.
Trail markers went with shade, rocks to climb on, and a canteen full of sun-warmed water.
It’s weird, but I have a mild fear of becoming lost. Weird, because I’m good with directions, and have only been truly lost a couple times in my life. If I’m driving somewhere and want to try a different route, I can usually wing it and end up in the right place. Winging it does not include GPS, which is no fun. It’s hand-holding, and on the inside, I’m still the kid who ran ahead of her parents. Trail markers, maps, and compasses reassure me, but I can get by without them unless I’m in a totally new place.
I’ve been writing a children’s chapter book with the working title “Pumpkin Goblins.” The main character is a kid who’s having the worst Halloween ever, and I gave her my fear of getting lost. Only for her, it’s not a mild fear that crops up now and then. It’s a big enough deal that she wears a compass around her neck at all times. My own fear may be minor, but it made me curious. I didn’t know why being lost scared me until I wrote most of “Pumpkin Goblins.”
Becoming lost is a loss of control. And if you keep a tight enough hold on your map and compass, if you keep your trail markers in sight, maybe you never have to experience it.
I took the first photo at the community garden where my partner has a plot, and it looks much duller than I remembered. This became even more obvious when I sliced off the top to use for my website’s header.
Part of the blame for that falls to my digital camera, which does poorly with low light and action, and is also skittish around children and wolves.
Part of it has to do with my own perception. How can a flat picture on a screen compare to standing on a hill at the onset of a cool spring night, the air rich with plant smells? I’m sure the sum total of impressions from my other senses influenced my memory.
I punched up the color in this picture three times. While the first picture is the one I took, and the third one matches my memory, the second one might be closer to reality. The fourth one isn’t quite hyperreal, but it looks more like an idealized, imagined sunset.
Even though number two is probably most accurate, three is more truthful in a way. It still can’t capture the energy of being alive with cold wind in your face, but the extra vibrancy conveys a bit more of the energy I remember.
They say that cameras don’t lie. But that depends. Do you count a lie of omission as a lie?