Growing up I recall countless afternoons after church and the proverbial Sunday lunch putting on hiking boots to walk the trails in the nearby wildlife refuge. My dad, of course, was the “hiking master” as we took our stride up the mountainside. The party of hikers besides my dad and me would include my sister, my mother who often joined in reluctantly, and maybe a neighborhood friend or two if we could twist a few arms. We’d fill the canteens with water and set out for an afternoon of adventure among the wooded footpaths and the grassy, rocky meadowlands. Walking over leaves and branches, detouring around streams and boulders, our band of walking warriors always found excitement along the way. Any sighting of a scissortail or a large bird that we were certain was a bald eagle would simply send us over the moon. We might see a buffalo and an elk. My memory of those times lingers on happy hours spent walking trails lined with shrub oak and holly berries, cedar and pine needles. I can close my eyes and smell those Sunday afternoons. My dad, without a doubt, was motivated on those hikes among the Wichitas by, not only, a time to savor nature’s beauty, but also, a chance to explore, to feel adventure, to imagine life far beyond the horizon. To widen the expanse of what we could explore within driving distance on a Sunday afternoon, our summer vacations often took us to the Rockies of Colorado. There the hikes took on a majestic vibe. We were beyond the reach of home. We were serious hikers now setting out from the trailheads surrounding Estes Park. The summer mountain journeys were a way to venture together as time moved on and family vacations like these would end. Yet, what was lasting would be the sense of wonder my dad had shared with me. He’d talk about geography as more than a physical location but rather a state of mind, places not bound by borders and endless worlds to discover. To look at life as a chance to marvel at its beauty, its mystery and to seek new horizons, to wander different places was his wish for me and my siblings. His travelogues about some of our summer vacations were published in those early travel magazines. He referred to our trips as pilgrimages and I quote “Already we could feel the exuberance that goes with vacation time. We had our road maps marked…rain dampened neither our gear or our spirits…we had lingered almost too long, drinking in the pleasure of being roaming gypsies.” Today I’ve volksmarched in Germany and France and walked the beaches in Hawaii and California. I set out mornings to run the trail by my house all the while looking around for the next adventure and still in awe of this world, still feeling the magic of what’s beyond. I say, take a hike!
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