Over the River and Through the Woods

A few weeks ago, I bought tickets to California on a whim: at $78 dollars, I’d decided to put an end to my self-imposed quarantine by making a trip to see the Redwood Forest. It’s always been a dream of mine to make it there one day and wrap my arms around one of the trees. When the time for my flight came, I’d decided against it as Corona rates in California were skyrocketing. But being over 800 years old, I’m sure the Redwoods can wait another year for me. In the meantime, I’ve been thinking about some of the hiking trips I’ve taken. And at the risk of sounding like the typical ‘My life was changed by my experience abroad’ third semester college student, I will be talking about the things I saw in Wales, when my love for hiking really found its roots.

The first place we went was a mountain called Garn. Five of us chose, surprisingly soon after meeting each other, that we should rent a car, drive two hours north, and attempt to climb to the summit of a mountain. We grabbed the keys from a kind old woman stationed at the rental desk and made our way to Garn, biting our nails as we drove on the wrong side of the road. But we made it, stopping along the way at fairs and ceramic studios and tourist villages on the way. After pulling up to an unlit hostile in the dead of night, we made our way to climb it the next morning. Admittedly, no one thought to bring the proper gear and, needless to say, we did not make it to the top. But we at least ate a nice lunch before making our way back, as our bags were stuffed with food.

Then four of us decided to drive to Elan Valley, a chain of man-made lakes in Mid Wales. We followed behind the student bus, finding and losing our way repeatedly as every road looked the same. From the back seat, we stared at the walls as thousands of gallons of water cascaded from them. At each turn, another reservoir behind mossy stone walls. The lakes themselves were beautiful, a crystalline mirror that connected on the horizon to form an endless sky. It’s the one place I ask for a picture of myself; in it, I’m leaning over the ledge and staring down at the water. Even now, I remember how bizarre it felt to see the sky stretched out at my feet.

The last place was Parc Natur Penglais, or nature park, as the name suggests. This one I explored nearly every day, as the entrance to it stood at the back of my house. The path led through the forest, weaving a set of paths that all ended at a mountainous outlook with a view of the entire town. In the forest stood thousands of trees: as the wind blew through them, the smell of salt and the motion of leaves made you hold your breath like you were underwater. From the outlook, the whole town stretched itself out to meet the sea. You could hear the sea from up there, waves gently crashing against the stone shore, bubbling as they lapped the feet of mountains.

It was a beautiful place to just be: not thinking, not focusing on anything at all. I simply was as I felt the world around me. I remember the air, cold and crisp and wet, filling my lungs until they felt like they would burst. Then the relief, the pleasure, as I slowly breathed out. It’s a place I often think about when I find myself longing for the adventure I sought only a few weeks ago. It was the first place I realized we live in a world filled with beauty we can scarcely comprehend. The wonder of it, of trees and seas and mountains, is so much bigger and more timeless than ourselves. How many people before me stood in that spot, breathing in the air to the sounds of insects and ocean waves? How many people will come after, when the steps of my own path have been worn smooth like the stones on that Welsh beach? There is so much beauty out there just waiting to be respected and admired. So I’m not upset that my plans to see the Redwoods have to wait another year. In that time, the anticipation will only make the day I stand before them all the more beautiful.

Stay safe and hopeful!

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