“Can you recall dear comrade,

when we tramped God’s land together,

And we sang the old, old Earth-song 

When we drank and fought and lusted, 

for our youth was very sweet;

as we mocked tie and tether,

Along the road to Anywhere, 

the wide world at our feet.”

  From the poem; "The Tramps" by Robert Service

Grandson Thomas is on the brink of walking. He grabs a nearby chair leg. A human leg. Or anything he considers stable and pulls himself up from the floor. He totters and then slides his hand along whatever bit of solid he can find, and takes tentative steps.

Each passing day there is less teetering, and one of these days he will take off. His smile will broaden as he learns fast walking and soon after that will be the joy of running. And his universe will expand as he effortlessly explores.

As a species, humans walked out of Africa. There was a point in our evolution when we stood up, lifting our knuckles from the ground, and began perfecting the art of walking. It allowed us to use our other two limbs, our arms, for other tasks such as carrying food, tools and children. 

Most healthy humans walk fairly effortlessly. There is no need to focus on our locomotion. Consequently our minds are free to concentrate on other things. 

The other day while walking a trail that switchbacks its way up to Pyramid Peak in Olympic National Park in Washington, I experienced a rush of gratitude for the ability to promenade over all kinds of terrain. 

On this morning my son-in-law, Ben, wife Nancy and I climbed through the temperate rainforest. It was a green world of moss-covered trees and an understory of sword ferns and sisal. 

An hour into our hike we had to cross a steep pitch on a bare avalanche slide. Nancy, still wearing a cast on her healing broken wrist, cautiously scuffled along the narrow goat path. 

More switchbacks followed and we passed underneath some hefty Douglas firs. These trees had likely shot up after this ridge was logged prior to this region becoming a national park in 1938.

Walking. I take the act for granted. As I climbed towards the summit on this cool morning, I found myself recalling one of the first days after we moved to the Yukon Territory in the spring of 2008. Friend Gerry had called us from his home in Whitehorse and asked, “You two settled in? You want to go for a walk?”

We were excited to get out on the land and Gerry knew some good hikes out our way. He suggested a stroll up Red Ridge. We loved the idea. An hour later Gerry pulled up.

It turned out that Gerry’s definition of a “walk” was an all-day outing. Luckily he had enough food to share with us after we finished our dry granola bars. After that day, we learned all future “walks” would require bringing far more calories and gear for rain or snow. Gerry is a beast hiker.

However, my all time hero of hikers was a Scotsman named John Rae. He was a lifetime Hudson’s Bay Company man having signed on in 1833 as a surgeon. His feats of walking and snowshoeing thousands of miles from the Arctic Ocean to what would become northern Minnesota are beyond superlative. Rae’s stamina, ability to persevere and resilience made it possible to travel on foot and by canoe more than 23,000 miles in his years of exploration. He was able to do this because he adopted native ways in moving light and swiftly. He used his hunting and fishing skills and adopted indigenous practices in camping and clothing. 

As we gained elevation the temperature dropped and we were hiking through four inches of snow. With the steeper trail, we talked less. I listened to my duet of exhalations and heartbeats. 

By the time we reached the summit of Pyramid Peak, we had walked four miles and gained nearly 3,000 feet. 

We emerged from the trees and found a simple wooden cabin under the blue skies. It was built during WWII, in 1942, as an aircraft warning lookout point. It would serve for two years as a spotter station watching for potential Japanese aircraft entering air space on the USA west coast. 

The hut no longer has any glass windows or a door to keep the elements out.  We avoided the gusting winds by hunkering inside away from any openings and ravenously ate our packed lunches. We couldn’t help poking our heads out the vacant windows to enjoy stunning views of Crescent Lake below us. Peering to the horizon from our high vantage, we were captivated by the layers of mountain peaks.

After eating, we were hurried by the swirling winds rushing inside the old shelter. We began the descent back to the car. The walk down was much faster, less meditative and more social.  I couldn’t help but wonder if this outing would have even counted as a warm-up for John Rae. 

Nonetheless he would have nodded his approval of getting out enjoying the old Earth-song as we explored the trail to Anywhere.

Note: We flew from Tacoma back home to Minnesota and learned that same night that little Thomas had taken his first legitimate walk across the vastness of the home living room. And so it begins. 

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