What I Learned From Hiking, Part 3

Jeffrey Pines Smell Like Vanilla Cake


Whenever one enters into a conversation with a person that goes beyond the usual customs and rituals that guide brief interactions, a connection will inevitably form. With a small investment of time and reciprocal disclosure, a stranger now has a claim on our regard, no matter how small, creating the beginnings of a bond. At this point, it’s not uncommon to personalize this conversation by offering names and a hand-shake as a sign of respect or even nascent affection. In this manner, two people acknowledge each other and create the first stage of a bond. Strangers become acquaintances, and, with time, they may even become friends.

The same thing happened as I started to spend more time outdoors. The plants and trees that had originally resembled so much scenery started to stand out. I became aware of the differences between trees. This tree lost its foliage, while this tree kept its leaves. One tree became gnarled and twisted with age, while another tree stood tall and straight. A particular tree might put out large, ornate blossoms, while another tree only grew along a constant source of water. As each tree individualized further, I felt that I had to know more about each: what they are called, why they grew where they were, what their special characteristics were.

I learned that each tree has something remarkable about it. For instance, the pinyon pine, which grows in dry, desert climates, typically above 5,000 feet, was an important food source for native Americans. The black oak, which is a deciduous tree, has leaves that start out magenta, turn a brilliant green, and then fade into gold during fall. The sugar pine is the tallest of all pines, and John Muir found its sap preferable to maple syrup. And, of course, the resin from a Jeffrey pine smells an awful lot like vanilla cake.

The intimate details gained from my research and direct experience deepened my relationship with nature, which made hiking progressively more satisfying as I learned more. Like people, plants and trees offer more as you get to know them better. And like people, your affections, respect, and regard grow deeper with knowledge. In this way, a strange world became intimate and familiar, and my acquaintances progressed into friendships.

The lesson here is that, in order to deepen the experiences in life, I had to invest time, attention, energy, and respect in the world around me. In doing so, I was able to see the remarkable in the common, time and time again. Through this experience, the world progressively becomes more and more infused with magic with each new discovery.

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