Hiking Jumbo, and a few thoughts on expectations

Dear friends,

Yesterday, my family and I packed our backpacks, tossed on our dry-fit gear, laced up our boots, and hit the trail to climb Mt. Jumbo. Today, after a hearty breakfast and a good stretch, I’m relishing in the subtle soreness that follows a good trek in my beloved Southeast wilderness.

Jumbo is a great mountain, one of my favorites. This was my first time to hike the entirety of the mountain, and I was just as thrilled with the final half as I have always been with the first. The trail sees so much variety – from the beginning with its gentle upwards slope, towering devil’s club, leafy skunk cabbage, and winding streams, to the muskeg meadows and thickly wooded ascent, and finally to the stunning ridge with its soft beds of wildflowers and misty clouds breathing out of the undergrowth. It was a fun, challenging, and beautiful hike.

As we cleared the tree-line and started scaling the final ridge to the top, I was struck by the vast difference of the plant-life. We’d only made a difference of about 50 feet but the change of plant life gave the impression that we were on an entirely different mountain. We swapped twisting roots, thick trees, and heavy undergrowth for delicate wildflowers and soft mountain moss. The tiny, white, bell-shaped wildflowers studded the rich green swatch of color underneath, and I couldn’t help but wonder at how these flowers could suddenly find life after lying under the summit’s share of icy snow all winter long.

But these flowers were suited for high-altitude mountain life, just like leafy skunk cabbage thrives in the shade of the trees and the moisture of near-by water. What may seems harsh and stifling to one plant might be the ideal conditions for another, which gives us a very human lesson. It seems that so many feel out of place, discouraged, or inadequate when they examine their life, their career, their dreams.

Instead of running from these questions, what if we greeted them with compassion and self-awareness? What if, far from being inadequate, we simply need a “change of soil.” Whether its acquiring a new perspective, making a change in daily habits, or surrounding oneself with life-giving people, we all need to explore what conditions encourage our growth according to our particular needs. How nourishing it is to accept that, just like skunk cabbage or mountain flowers, we grow and thrive in unique ways.

So my friends, here’s to the days of letting go of expectations. To the days of surrendering our ideas of how things should work, and instead breathing in the wild air of the unplanned, of adventure.

This past week I decided to set down all of the obligations I placed on myself, all of the problems I needed to solve, all the hoped-for progress I was so desperately trying to make. I set them down and instead I picked up a new book and read chapter after chapter, just relishing the story. I made plans with good friends. I had two, lingering cups of coffee each morning. I dived into new recipes, perused old bookstores, doodled the mountain views on a sunny afternoon, listened to my favorite music, played badminton (however unskillfully) with my family, and just generally soaked in my life.

Perhaps I am singing the same old song – I realize how often I’ve written to you about self-care and I’m not sure why I keep having to re-learn this lesson. But, I’m sharing it with you because I am grateful to re-learn it. I am grateful to feel the sweet release that comes with the realization that I do not have to do everything. That we are human beings, not human doings.

It is easy to feel discouraged when, reaching into our inner storehouse for more patience, more empathy, more charity, we find it empty. For me, that’s when I know I need to take time for myself in order to have the fuel to give to others. My time in quiet morning prayer, at daily Mass, at Adoration, walking in the mountains, sharing a cup of coffee with a friend – these things bring me life and give me the grace to reach outside of myself. Find the things that bring you life, that inspire you, that give you space, and make time for them.

Wishing you peace this week, my friends!


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