Perhaps it’s fitting. Late in the year, I found myself curling into a colorful scarf and hiding out on a Crooked River. It could barely be seen from the lodge, so I hiked outside in search of a scenic overlook.
The temps were above freezing, but a fresh-fallen snow covered the gentle hills. The sun had already risen, but lazy clouds sliced daylight into layers of white and blue. The river’s current moved swiftly, but the edges of the water stilled to solid ice.
In the soft glow of a winter’s day, I could scarcely tell the firm grassland beneath the snow from the ice-capped riverbed. Instead of following the river, I chose to hike along a winding path of cattails, and revel in the irony with my energetic, old dog.
This is how I spent much of my time, during what some are calling the last few days of the decade. I spent New Year’s Eve tucked away at a wilderness lodge, somewhere in northern Michigan.
It was a simple kind of beautiful — a retreat I desperately needed, down to my lonely soul and my slowly healing heart.
Ailments of the Soul
For a few weeks now, I’ve been very sick. I’ve been busier than usual. I’ve been unable to sleep. I’ve been too tired to keep up with daily demands, and nearly every morning, I’ve woken up sneezing, or coughing — or worse.
It’s not surprising.
I pushed myself hard over the last year, trying to accomplish things that I once thought weren’t possible. I worked nonstop during the day, then fought fatigue late into the night, hoping to achieve personal goals in growth and creativity. When I wasn’t moving tirelessly in pursuit of a dream, I ran myself ragged anyway, by choice.
Moving through life with purpose was always the better option, rather than sitting around aimlessly — moping — waiting for the next emotional boot to drag mud across the floor.
During my first full year in Michigan, I spent a lot of time alone, even though I so highly value the friendship of others. It was an intentional reminder that beauty also exists on the inside, and sometimes we can be our own best companions. I posted a lot to social media, realizing that, for once, there was no reason not to. It was an optimistic effort to share more of the journey and to spread more joy. I traveled more than I ever have before, although travel has always been integral to who I am. It was a brave adventure to seek out the wonders of nature, without worry for anyone else.
To each of these, there’s also a flip side.
Busy with a Twist
These days, everything seems to come with a twist.
Maybe I spent too much time alone, but I’m thankful to have also made many new friends along the way. Maybe I posted too much on social media, but that’s what happens when you leave an extrovert alone! Maybe I shouldn’t always travel solo, but don’t worry, I finally figured out how to do it right. Aside from acquiring a ton of new gear, I’ve also created a safety net with check-in partners and back-up plans.
It was bitter, and not so sweet, but with the way my life changed last year, I’m finally able to do the things I’ve always wanted to. Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve been a hopeful idealist. I’ve wanted to believe anything is possible.
Last spring, I did what I could to set that independent spirit free. My boundless optimism is now unleashed!
Of course, that doesn’t mean my journey of late hasn’t been without struggle, disappointment and heartache. I definitely have experienced those things too. When it comes to romantic relationships, I’ve endured more emotional pain than I ever thought possible, all inside of a year. But I’m not the type of person who benefits from wallowing in the past.
It has been difficult to let go of what could’ve been, but I’m eager to begin anew. I am determined to move forward.
On a Crooked River
When I write about my adventures, I try to give them so much clarity. And yet, maybe life is not quite so straight-forward. As humans, maybe we will always be looking forward and looking back.
Like a boat on a crooked river.
I know that the past doesn’t define me. And yet, no one can deny that my past has made me who I am today. At least in part. Like my twin brothers and parents who’ve gone before me, I’ve lived a lot of life in a short time. Throw the trials of last year into the mix, and sometimes, it’s hard to know which way is up.
Even now, I find there is value both in looking forward, and in looking back.
After all, the river moves with a very strong current. Though it may seem to go in one direction, the waterway bends this way and that. The river is crooked, and sometimes, it pushes onward with a twist.
In the wilderness, there is always more to the scenery than meets the eye. Let’s not forget that there is also nuance in the human experience. We are moved by both the air that flows above us and the forces at work below us. We are influenced by both the nature of our past and the vision of our future.
There’s bound to be love and loss, joy and hardship. And if we are tireless as we chase after our dreams, there’s bound to be a lot of growth.