Hiking is probably the quintessential primal activity. There’s nothing between you and nature, and in response, your senses come alive. The poor little nerve-endings that suffer neglect all week under fluorescent lighting and in carpeted enclosures begin to think maybe they haven’t been entirely forsaken.
Instead of staring so narrowly at a back-lit screen, your eyes relax out to embrace their peripheral vision while simultaneously scanning the trail ahead for the terrain. The eye is attracted to the simple pops of color: the refreshed greens of mosses and lichens, the earliest of the wildflowers in purple and white, the odd whites and yellows of mushrooms. Your nose senses rain, earth, pines. The trees drip in symphony, muffled by the lingering fog, and accented with the yawps of jays. You roll a spiky pinecone around in your palm and don’t mind the grit of soil on your hands.
Or, you know, whatever the world holds for you where you live. Get out there!
On this particular day, I took my brand new Vibram Five Fingers out for a solo hike through the woods and hills just behind our house. Just three blocks up, I entered a tunnel of old manzanita trees which dumped me out into the trail system of our watershed. Everything was going great until I saw a large and deep paw print in the mud. The only prints I’d seen so far were of a large hiking boot, so I doubt it was a dog, because I’d have expected to see more of them along the way. Mountain lions have been spotted in the area and I’ve seen some torn-off deer legs here, so it’s not a far-fetched idea that one had very recently planted this print. My senses went from relaxed to adrenaline-aided high alert. Intellectually, I knew this was silly because they see us far more than we see them. Being alert wasn’t going to help me much, so I breathed deeply and hoped I didn’t look too tasty.
The higher I went, the more fog insulated the sounds of the forest and enhanced my isolation. I saw few people out on the trails, a rarity for a Sunday. This time of year, this time of transition, is such a beautiful one here. The grasses, mosses, and forest plants are greening up, but the foliage is still sparse. You can suddenly see all the small animal trails cut through the hills. Last year’s leaves are in various states of decomposition on the forest floor and the fungi, those eccentric totems of dead organic material, are everywhere. Oregon is mushroom heaven, and soon, when the snows recede in the higher elevations, I’ll be hunting morels. Oregon is also home to many wild orchids. My favorite is the Fairy Slipper Orchid, and I was lucky to see one on this hike so early in their season. As we get closer to May, the hills here will be covered in various wildflowers and another of my favorites, the wild iris.
Hiking with my VFFs was a whole new experience. At first, I avoided rough and wet trail obstacles, but I quickly realized that it felt good to step on roots, rocks, and mud. Those of you who’ve gone barefoot already know this. All those nerves in the feet have been dormant for so long, that it begins to feel like they’re craving some stimulation. When the weather’s drier, I plan on trying to hike fully barefoot, but for now, this is as close as one can get to being barefoot with some protection. This is an important consideration here with copious amounts of poison oak and blackberry brambles with which to contend. Look for a review of the VFFs soon.
*Do you have a Primal Activity you’d like to share with The Paleo Periodical? It doesn’t have to be a sport (think hunting, gardening, etc.). Send your idea to firstname.lastname@example.org and it might get showcased here!