Even at the trailhead I knew I wasn’t on (or, rather, about to embark upon) the trail I had envisioned. My imagined trail clamored straight up small, steep mountain to a panoramic view. There I would meditate, write in my journal and then hike back down to my car, a new woman. The squiggly line on the oversized map posted in front of me headed up a ridge but then kept meandering further and further away from any sort of view until about 4 or five miles along where red stars indicated Scenic Overlooks! But it was already afternoon and I didn’t have time for some eight to ten mile hike alone in the woods.
This is how I ended up at this particular trail: Even though I’d come for solitude, I had let my boyfriend choose my trailhead and then blindly followed the blue triangle on my phone to the red Google map pin to this trailhead. What could have I been thinking? Sheer laziness? In the parking lot I told myself I should have done my own research. I should have printed out a map, for goodness sake. I should have known better.
Grimacing, I strapped on my pack and headed up the trail at a fast clip, nearly jogging. Maybe I could make it to a view if I just walked quickly enough. As the first ridge dumped me down into a valley of bare trees, I told myself I should try to enjoy my hike. Then I thought about what a friend told me recently about the word should. Try replacing it with could, she had suggested. I made the semantic adjustment: I could have done my own research and I could be on a mountain with a view.
Actually, the phrasing did feel different. Yup. Could’ve prepared differently, could’ve been on a different hike. What a casual word, could. While should is filled with value judgment, regret and blame, could is just…Eh, I could’ve stayed home. I could’ve gotten my hair done. I’m here on this hike instead. Whatevs. I could sulk the whole way or I could enjoy where I ended up, instead.
It took me half the hike and one missed turn, but finally I found I could appreciate this different hike. Because while I could have gone on an old familiar trail, then I would never have ended up right here, in the woods, facing my own frustrations. Which was exactly where I found the solace I needed.