Madison Monday: A Year on Trail 3

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It’s the new year, and time for reflection on the year past and the year to come (happy and healthy reflection, rather than the disassociative sort). Last year this time I was embarking on my happiness project. There were a couple of updates on my blog. And then…nothing. Did my happiness project tank? Yes and no.

Along Trail 3

I did give up on the very involved monthly chart. You might also say that I just discovered that I am not a daily check-the-box kind of person. Many of the things I did that were inspired by the happiness project became a part of my regular routine, such as meditating. My happiness project got me thinking a great deal about the things that actually make me happy as compared to the things I believe should make me happy. It gave me the courage to try new things, like playing the fiddle and knitting, which have increased my quality of life immensely. I think the most valuable part of the happiness project overall was that it empowered me to think seriously about concrete things I might do to make myself happier. So I declare it a honking big success.

This year, I’m going with a few concrete resolutions, rather than a more extensive happiness project. And number one on that list is to walk a trail in Clifty Falls State Park at least once a month. Specifically, I’ll be walking parts of Trail 3.

Now, in the past I’ve scoffed at the idea of hiking in a state park. This is because I was fortunate enough as child to grow up in the country on a generous piece of land. We kind of had our own little private state park, complete with woods and a creek, and if you went far enough down the creek, a waterfall and some cliffs. When you grow up being able to just walk outside your door and into nature, it takes a while to appreciate what a state park might be for–i.e., people who do not have their own little chunk of park.

I think these taken-for-granted assumptions explain a lot of things that rural folks find hard to understand. Like dog parks. If you grew up on a farm or out in the boonies, you didn’t walk your dog. If you were a small child who had grown up watching folks on Sesame Street walk their dogs (or their llamas) you might want to try to walk your dog as a kind of cool new thing to try, but your dog was probably having none of it. Your dog probably didn’t live inside with you anyway, so it certainly didn’t get all cooped up during the day. Our dogs could run when they wanted to, lay around when they wanted to, and even roll in horse poop when they wanted to (which was more often than we liked). So a space for our dogs to run around and be walked was nowhere on our list of public services we felt our local government should provide for us.

But now I live in the urban metropolis of downtown Madison, with a backyard the size of most people’s garage. I can walk down to the river, which is quite scenic, and before the bridge work started, I liked to walk east of the bridge along Vaughn Drive, where things get a little less crowded and a little more quiet. You can walk west towards the Heritage Trail and up the hillside. But downtown is downtown, and it is enjoyable in a way that is quite different from walk in Clifty.

The trails in Clifty are not particularly what you’d call an easy stroll. They range from “very rugged” to “moderately rugged.” There’s a trail marked “easy” on there, but I’m skeptical. If you hike most any trail in Clifty, which is to say walk purposefully for extended periods of time, you will have to spend all of your time looking down, watching carefully where you place your feet so that you will not fall and kill yourself. If you want to look up and around, you will have to stop walking, but this is what I prefer. Growing up, I spent a lot of time walking around the woods. But the walking was secondary. I was walking to get somewhere, to see something, to pretend that I was trekking through the snowy frozen landscape of Hoth on Star Wars or a treacherous jungle from Indiana Jones. If a hike is a walk that gets me someplace where I can stop and look around, then I’m all about hiking.

In Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Annie Dillard picks a very small patch of the earth, a small area in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, and takes a long hard look. Lacking the benefit of a cabin on Tinker Creek, I intend to take a good long look at a small patch of Clifty Falls State Park. Trail 3 is only “rugged,” and believe me when I say, I won’t be walking the whole of Trail 3. But at least once a month, I resolve to check it out. To see what I can see. To chase the elusive moment when winter becomes spring. To discover that winter is not as dull and colorless as it looks in our imagination. To absorb the sound of the breeze that seems to always be blowing in the woods. To head for a spot and then sit quietly and look around. To observe a year on Trail 3.

As a teaser, here’s a brief description of Trail 3 from the Department of Natural Resources website for Clifty Falls:

RUGGED (1 mile)—Starts at park road just south of Poplar Grove. Long grade descends to midcanyon, then follows along canyon. Steep grades rise to Poplar Grove. Easy walking to near side of Beech Grove connecting with Trail 4.

What are your New Years’s resolutions for 2012?

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