About a month ago I joined a dear friend on a hike in the beautiful North Georgia mountains. The trip was an opportunity for us to not only take a break from our lives and hang out, but also a chance to catch up and talk about our dreams, fears and ideas in person. Friends for almost 30 years, we hadn’t seen each other in a year and a half.
Heading out from Amicalola Falls State Park, our hike took us to the Len Foote Hike Inn, an eco-friendly, sustainable lodge nestled along the Springer Mountain trail—which leads to the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. We had made this same hike a little over 15 years earlier on New Year’s Day, 2003. This time it was mid-June in the Southern heat. Our hike up that day was hot and humid, but the five miles seemed to go by fast—three hours passed quickly as we chatted and joked and observed some natural delights along the way, including a “flock” of iridescent damselflies fluttering in the trees along the trail.
We were upbeat but exhausted when we made it to the inn that afternoon, dropping our packs wearily onto the floor and heading for the showers. The family-style meal that evening was not only delicious, but much-appreciated!
After supper we sat out on the wrap-around porch as thunder rolled around the mountains and mist filled the spaces between the trees. An aging eastern hemlock stood guard in the herb garden alongside the porch. Our conversation turned to life and death and those passed, but it wasn’t all doom and gloom—we reminisced with warm hearts.
The next day we headed off on another five-mile hike to the southern terminus. It was a cool Tuesday morning, all the rain having driven away the heat (thankfully). Throughout the day it continued to rain on and off, the raindrops bouncing off the thick green canopy overhead. Another thick, magical mist rolled in. We felt like we were wandering through a Tolkien landscape, journeying between worlds as we made our way up the mountain.
Along our path we came to a worn-out old tree with thick branches that reached out like a hand—the hand of God, I thought. In this liminal place, between the inn and our destination, away from our “real” lives and enveloped in the surreal atmosphere, we were held gently in the hand of God. This friend I treasure so much, our friendship a gift I’ve been blessed to have. This time together was a respite, but it was also a rejuvenation of joy, life, love—a spiritual renewal. It was a symbol of why any of us are even here—to love one another and share each other’s life journey.
We saw a few others that day making their way along the trail. One couple was celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary hiking the AT. Others were much younger, newer to their lives, embarking on adventure and fun, maybe looking to find themselves on the trail in the company of like-minded spirits. We signed the guest book at the terminus, hidden from the elements in a metal box tucked underneath. So many names and words of wisdom and humor. “I was here,” each signature declared. I was here: walking my path, living in the mystery, seeking myself surrounded by love, held in the hand of God.