C.S. Lewis liked to walk.
I remind myself of that whenever I’m outside. For even something as simple as the walk from the front door to the car. I remind myself that my favorite author walked all the time, for the fun of it. Alone, with company, it was his favorite activity.
I walk so rarely these days, and I’d like to blame a soul-sucking day job, a bunch of responsibilities that tie me to a computer, or just the general background noise of anxiety that usually surrounds me. I’d love to say it was some outside thing barring me from getting out, but I know it’s me. I want to, but at the same time I don’t.
This is depression. There are things you want to do, things you know might make you feel better if you just did them, but you can’t let yourself. There are better things, more important things to do, things to worry about, and, no, they do nothing for your mental health but you suspect you’d feel worse if you let them slide to go do something just for you. That might ruin the experience of the thing you wanted to do, and so you stay right where you are, under the weight of all the stuff you can’t put down.
There’s a reason they call it depression.
Occasionally, though, I manage to climb out. It feels like a sin, but I do it anyway. I put on actual shorts and actual sandals, (and actual sunscreen, because I’m not an idiot), and I step out onto the midmorning grass and turn to the path behind the house. The one I’ve wanted to walk sense I moved here but never have for all the reasons that I don’t walk as much as C.S. Lewis.
I notice two things the second I step out. 1. The path is a lot steeper than I thought. I could tell it had to be fairly steep, given the distance, the height of the hill, but I thought there’d be more steps, something cut into the hill, not the dirt trail cutting a 45 to the left up to the top. 2. The path is harder to see than I thought. Again, some part of me thought there’d me more of a “path”. Something obvious, something maintained. I notice both of these things, followed quickly by a third. 3. Neither of these things stop me.
I forgot it had rained the day before, hard enough to knock leaves down from the canopy above. Leaves that are still wet, that don’t crunch happily under my feet, that obscure the already hard-to-see path, giving the steepness a nice, slippery surface.
I cross the little stream that separates the yard from the hill, hopping from rock to rock with ease. This, oddly, has always come easy to me. For someone naturally physically awkward, I can, when needed, call on the balance of a mountain goat. Something I remind myself of proudly as I make my first steps on the path, planting my feet firmly on the wet leaves. Something I remind myself of sarcastically not 30 seconds later when I slip and land on my hands and knees trying to duck under a branch.
C.S. Lewis liked to walk. And he was a British professor so you know he did it in something three piece and tweed. I crawl under the branch until I can find something to pull up on. I brush myself off after I do and keep trekking. I don’t fall again.
Ancient societies all share a reverence for places like this. Glades and groves. Places where there’s more nature than you. Something told them this was where gods, faeries, and monsters gathered. Tread lightly. Tread respectfully.
When I round a corner as the path levels out, it makes sense. Something in the light, something in the way things are situated tells me I’ve stepped out of what I call the world into something else. The congress of rocks and trees. The stones to my right might as well be a meeting place. The dense brush to my left might as well lead to somewhere I could never guess.
There’s a magic to hiking, especially alone. You can’t take anything with you. I somehow never do. There are so many things that keep me from doing this, from just stepping out my door and choosing myself for an hour. But when I do, I find that none of those things have followed me. None of those thoughts, none of those questions. I feel guilty about it afterwards, for forgetting, but never while I’m there. I am lost to the world.
So much so I only now notice I’m bleeding. The fall was worse than I thought. The dull pain I thought was simply my pride turned out to be a nice little cut on my knee. I contemplate going back, for a moment thoughts like infection and amputation flit through my brain, but I decide against it. Partly to avoid going back down and risk another, worse fall, and partly because I’m not done yet.
The best way out is through. What’s more, I can see the path now. It’s still not as clear as I’d like, such that I get the feeling if I stepped off I’d lose it, but it’s there. I go on. It’s not long after that I’m rewarded for my efforts.
The trees break and the top of the hill opens up into a wide grassy field. I turn around instinctively and am greeted by a view of the entire valley. A vista from one end of my vision to the other. I forget I’m bleeding. I forget the pain in my legs and the splinter in my hand I’ll only discover an hour later. I forget the questions I can’t answer. I forget the ticking clock and the sinking in my stomach that I get whenever I think about any of these things. I don’t forget to look. I don’t forget to take in every bit of the view and every thought and word it inspires in me.
C.S. Lewis liked to walk. I think I know why.