Last weekend we visited the badlands of the Bisti Wilderness. Upon arrival we parked and were faced with a barbed wire fence. Beyond that: wilderness. The little man said, with a hint of trepidation in his voice, "Where is the trail?" After explaining that there was no trail, just wide open country, there was an uneasy feeling in both kids as we headed out. They stayed a bit closer than usual and asked many questions about how we would find our way back.
In all of the hiking we had done in Nova Scotia there had been either a well defined path, or at the least, an oceans edge to follow. There were occasions that we ventures "off trail." But we never went too far and always talked about looking back to see where you came from on a regular basis to look for small markers or trees along your path. Seeing your personal trail from the other point of view would help you find your way back. This is, of course, a valuable lesson no matter where you are.
As we hiked in this new wilderness we had the same discussions. This time using the large geologic features around us as markers. We talked about what made each feature unique and continued to look back and keep them in sight as we moved along to the next feature we had picked as a destination in the distance. Truth be told we did not hike all that far. As adults it was easy to gain perspective and find our way back without much trouble. But I can only imagine as a child seeing all that wide open space in front of you, when your experience has been the much more safe feeling of the forest trail without that very long view, it would make one a bit uneasy. And they stayed close.
I started to think about how this applied to life. There is safety in following the well trodden path. When hiking trails the kids would venture just a little ways ahead, just out of view around the corner, knowing that we would soon follow in their footsteps. The trail gave them security and freedom all at the same time. I suppose that is how one feels in life taking roads well traveled, fulfilling expectations of others, matching up to societal norms. A bit of security and because of that security a wee bit of freedom to experiment and test... as long as it is not too far!
And so there are limits.
As we hiked on we looked at rocks, spied the occasional ant, and marveled in the discovery of green plant life. The small details of this amazing landscape brought it to life. But this wide open landscape had deeper gifts to offer than the simple learning of the geology, flora, and fauna. The possibility it holds to make your own path, pave your own way, is powerful. It is something these little people have been told, and on the limited scale of their own individual learning have experienced, but the physical experience of this place was a revolution. They may not know it yet, but experiencing the long view is a valuable lesson in seeing what is ahead and working to get there. While at the same time not getting lost along the way. Keeping your markers in sight. And remembering where you came from, and if need be, how to get back.
And so there are still limits. But these are limits you set. Your own personal markers of your own choosing.
Have you ever felt the freedom offered by both the well beaten path and the wide open possibilities of blazing your own trail?