I was recently hiking with my three year old son through old-growth forest near Kitimat, British Columbia. With great enthusiasm he tackled the forest trails, skipping alongside rippling creeks, amongst giant spruce and cedar trunks, lacy ferns, and monstrous devil’s club. He was thrilled to be leading me on a grand adventure, until he tripped on a protruding tree root that sent him slamming to the forest floor with a skinned-up knee cap.
“Watch out for those roots!” I cautioned after I helped him back to his feet.
After that, for a long time he walked with his eyes on his feet, making sure they avoided roots that jutted across the path. He passed by the greatest and grandest tree in the forest and didn’t even notice, until I pointed it out. He missed seeing a bald eagle soar right in front of him across the river to land on a tree branch of dead-fall stuck on a sandbar. He didn’t even notice the “stairs” climbing up a the trunk of a tree. So intent was he on making sure he didn’t trip up again that he was missing the whole point of the hike.
I stopped him and explained that yes it was good to be aware of where your feet are going but it was equally important to see what was all around you. We need to take notice of our surroundings, not only for our safety but for the beauty that can be found at hand.
Eventually and mostly because he’s a three year old brimming with energy, he forgot to watch his feet and bounced on ahead to discover an old wooden bridge to cross. He found a stick that resembled a bird (in his eyes only) and picked up rocks that were coins dropped by pirates while they were burying their treasure. He gloried in racing down a small dip and charging up the other side. He stood atop a massive fallen tree trunk and crowed his victory over some unnamed foe that he had battled into the ground with his “sword”, yet another stick. He was boy in his element.
He did stumble again over tree roots in the path and bounced to his feet muttering “Darn those trippy roots mom!” before he bounded off to see what was around the next corner.
Take a lesson from my three year old—If you keep your eyes on your feet, you will miss out on the beauty that surrounds you. Don’t let those darn trippy roots keep your eyes focused inward, but look out and find the beauty that God has put there in both the big and the small things of this world!
I had learned the value of keeping my head up while hiking during the time I was working on Quadra Island, BC for a children’s camp when I was sixteen. I was taking a group of kids up a steep, rocky trail to a very high lookout. Every one of those kids watched their feet the entire way up and every one of them, nine in a row, smacked their forehead on a solid, low hanging branch. One got a nasty scrape right under her eye. Yep, it definitely pays to keep your head up!
It also pays to know where your feet are going. Anyone who spends any amount of time in the bush knows this very well. A misplaced step can put you in a big trouble fast. Like the time I went to lope a horse across a mountain meadow and he stepped into a gopher hole. We went ass over teakettle with him landing fully on top of my shoulders. Thank God my head ended up in another hole and I didn’t break my neck! The worst part was him rolling over and over me in an attempt to regain his feet. Despite all that, I survived, with only a strained wrist and a very bruised body to show for it. I was able to finish the pack trip I was on, but for a long time afterward (like my son) I watched my horse’s feet and didn’t really enjoy the rides we took down narrow mountain paths.
The key to walking or riding in the bush is to be aware to where your feet are going but also be alert to your surroundings. Likewise, it is wise to be aware of where you are headed in life, but not so focused on that as to miss the beauty of what surrounds you presently! It would be a shame to miss something extraordinary right in front of your nose! In the same regard it would not be wise to become so fixated on your surroundings that you fall into a hole or trap that prevents you from accomplishing your goal.
Like I tried to explain to my son, we need to be AWARE and ALERT in life, just as we are when we walk in the bush. Unfortunately, I think I am more like my son in that I often forget most of the lessons I’ve been taught (or teach) until I trip over another “snag” I should’ve seen or bashed my head on a “branch” because I forgot to keep my head up. “Darn those trippy roots!”
“If I keep my eyes on God, I won’t trip over my own feet.” Psalm 25:15 (The Message)