I started hiking so I could be alone. The silence allowed my mind to just shut itself off for a few hours a week and focus on nothing more than placing one foot in front of the other. The simplicity of these afternoons brought me peace, as their soul purpose was pleasure. I deviated from my solo practice this past Saturday for Parents’ Weekend. My mom was in town and I figured I should show her why people really like Maine (surprisingly, it’s not Hannaford’s and cloudy weather). I figured bringing her back to the Carrabassett Valley would be a safe bet. It was peak foliage, after all.
The Carrabassett Valley is also rich with its own geological history and is intertwined with Maine culture. The valley formed when the continental collision of Europe and North America caused clay and sand to surge up from the ocean’s depths and form peaks that were originally estimated to be up to 15,000 feet tall! (That would sure make this column a lot harder). Magma then flowed over the peaks and formed them into the metamorphic rock we see today. Native Americans occupied the land in the winter time as they migrated west from the coast where they spent summers. Native people relied on the natural resources the land for their survival. When Europeans arrived in Maine around 1500 A.D., the diseases and conflicts they brought with them decimated native populations in the Carrabassett Valley, and by 1650, few native people remained in the area. Today, the valley is home to the Bigelow Preserve, which contains the Sugarloaf ski mountain and other famous Maine 4,000-footers such as Mount Avery and West Peak.
As my mom and I started up the trail, carefully picking our way through the slippery leaves and jagged roots, something felt different for me. That feeling of solitude was replaced by companionship. The slight fear that always boils in the back of my mind was assuaged. I could relax a bit more. It was the same feeling of happiness and freedom, but without the tense undertone.
There’s something incredibly special about sharing an activity you love with someone else, and to see them find the same love in it that you do. It’s wonderful to explore your interests and passions independently; in fact, I think it’s healthy to do some things alone. But, you’ll never see the extent of something’s full value until you see someone else experience and appreciate it outside of yourself. I couldn’t fully realize this until I saw it myself on my mom’s face: the sweat, determination, and reward of the climb. I saw in her what I felt in myself.
I’m not encouraging you to give up your alone time. Believe me, I would be the last to suggest that. There is something to be said about being alone. It’s a skill I believe everyone should master and be content with. It’s true what they say about life: you are the only person that will be there the whole time. For me, being alone in the woods, even if it’s just once a week for a couple hours, reminds me to take a look around my mind, and make sure I like what I see.
I also believe that one of the greatest gifts we are given is the privilege to make connections with other people. Coming into college reveals that more than ever. In a brand new environment, often far from home and the identity you once had, you’re forced to connect with a whole new set of people.
I don’t think it should be as stressful as everyone makes it out to be. It’s an opportunity and a gift, and I think we should view it as such. There are thousands of new personalities waiting to be discovered and you have all the time in the world to find people you jive with. It’s a fresh start with endless opportunities for happiness and fulfillment.
Share stories, laugh together, go climb a mountain with your friends. Go climb a hill with your mom. See a sunset with your dad. Take full advantage of the gift of others.
~ Liz Cutting `26