As I sit to write this post, a winter storm is bearing down. Outside the wind is howling, snow (or some sort of precipitation) is whizzing through the air, and the temperature is steadily falling. I am wrapped in a blanket, I’m wearing some cozy slippers, and I have some hot ginger tea by my side. I feel so, so fortunate to be able to enjoy this storm from a place of safety and warmth, and also for the gift of not having to try to get anywhere else.

It was after I cozied myself into my writing nest that I noticed that the message from my tea bag was “An attitude of gratitude brings opportunities.” This connected to another quote I read this morning, from The Book of Joy, a wonderful book containing wisdom from His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, with Douglas Abrams:

“Gratitude is the recognition of all that holds us in the web of life and all that has made it possible to have the life that we have and the moment that we are experiencing.” (p. 242). I like this quote as it not only reminds us to be grateful, but to also cherish the moments we are in.

A hand holding a mug of tea, with The Book of Joy in the background

It is through this lens of gratitude that share with you a wonderful recent adventure. For this adventure, I opted to hike along one of my favorite sections of the southern Superior Hiking Trail. This spot is a favorite for multiple reasons: its proximity to my place, the dramatic “mountainy” feel (sometimes hard to find in Minnesota), and its general quietness (the trailhead is at the end of an unsigned, residential street). I planned to hike out and back for part of my time and to finish my hike with a small loop using a multi-use spur trail.

I’d like to pause here for a moment and acknowledge that the lands I explored on this particular hike, and on my other adventures in Minnesota and elsewhere, are the traditional, ancestral, and contemporary lands of indigenous people. In addition, the mukluks that I wore on this trip allowed me to benefit from indigenous technology and wisdom. I am eternally grateful.

I am never disappointed when I hike or run in this area. Frequently, even if I start out in a mediocre mood, by the end I can’t help but grin. On more than one occasion I’ve ran into hikers experiencing it for the first time, some who have lived in Duluth for years without knowing it existed, who are in awe of the beauty and can’t help but share their delight. This day, however, I was alone. Not only was I alone, but once I got off of the main spur, I was the first human to travel the trail since the last snowfall.

When looking at my pictures, I realize that a lot of them are just pictures of the trail. They really don’t capture the experience: the soft crunch of my steps as they broke through the thin layer of crust on top of the snow, the general hush of the snow-covered woods, the flitting wing beats of the chickadees and woodpeckers, and the tracks of grouse, fox, deer, and other forest creatures as they went about their lives.

As I got to my turn-around time, I lamented the prospect of having to retrace my steps. Now, I almost always do out-and-backs for my hikes and runs, but today I was a little sad since turning around meant that I would no longer be breaking fresh trail and it meant that my adventure was getting closer to ending. However, right when I neared an overlook that provided a perfect point to turn around, I started getting pelted with snow – the little, ice ball kind.

I laughed out loud, and then quieted to listen to the sound of the snow as it filtered its way through the pine needles and bounced off of my jacket. As I made my way back the way I came, I was in awe at how much this sound and the sensation of getting pelted by the little icy balls changed the experience. Despite being the same location, it was a whole new trail. I spent quite a bit of time trying to think of the right word to describe the sound, but never came up with a perfect one. “Tinkle” just didn’t seem right. Nor did “swish.” Maybe the sound of a rainstick? There are some things that words, at least English ones, just cannot capture.

As I came back to the main loop of the trail, I still had what I knew to be a fun section left. The trail travels up and along a ridge with towering pines before a spur provides the option to descend, hugging contours as it winds its way back down to the trailhead. It was on top of this final ridge that I saw my first other hiker on the trail. Since I had had most of the afternoon to myself, I was overjoyed that another human was able to experience the beauty too. He had headphones in, but we gave each other a distanced nod and smile and continued on our ways.

As I descended to the trailhead, I was struck again with gratitude: for living in a place with opportunities to explore and for having the time and ability to do so.

As the wind whips outside, I’ll leave you with one more lovely quote from The Book of Joy. Though it isn’t directly a part of my recent adventure, it resonates with me as we finish up this year:

“When you are grateful, you are not fearful, and when you are not fearful, you are not violent. When you are grateful, you act out of a sense of enough and not out of a sense of scarcity, and you are willing to share. If you are grateful, you are enjoying the differences between people and respectful to all people. A grateful world is a world of joyful people. Grateful people are joyful people. A grateful world is a happy world.” (p.246)

I wish you all health and happiness as we look towards 2021. I’m grateful for you all!

For any who would like to read The Book of Joy (I recommend) and to find the quotes included, here’s the citation:

Bstan-‘dzin-rgya-mtsho, Tutu, D., & Abrams, D. (2016). The book of joy. Avery Publishing. ISBN 978-0-399-18504-5.