Photos and blog post by Joel Badzinski.
I stand still and there is no sound.
I feel only the chill air around me and a slight fatigue in my legs. I am at the bottom of a ravine, the lowest point of a trail called Darkside, perhaps so named by someone like me who appreciated its absolute and perfect quiet on a gray Monday morning in deep winter.
For too many years, I have worked nights, Tuesday through Saturday. Too many times, my wife or friends have invited me to weekend events and I’ve had to decline. The job is hectic and stressful. It has cost me dearly at times.
Sundays are for relaxing, working around the house, going to a movie, spending precious time with my wife, trying to make up for those lost weekends.
Mondays, when most of the world is back to work, are for me. If I can’t have Friday and Saturday nights, I’ll make the most of this.
The best of those days are when I find time to hike. I leave my cell phone in the car and some time ago stopped listening to my iPod on the trails, choosing the relative silence.
Maybe there is wind in the trees, a small animal scurrying in the underbrush, my boots crunching dirt, or the jingling of the metal tags on our dog’s collar. She, too, seems to understand the spirituality of the long hike, running ahead and turning back to me with shining, happy eyes.
The most satisfying of these hikes have been on winter mornings.
I have been out in the damp of spring, the full green of summer and the stunning fire-colors of autumn, but the starkness of a winter trail — black trees, gray sky, white hills — has always spoken to me.
There is a trail system on the backside of a high bluff 15 minutes from home. My favorite route takes close to two hours, and includes several descents into wooded valleys, with corresponding climbs. If there has been recent snowfall and the conditions are right, the trees become wrapped in white, creating a wondrous scene. I rarely see another person.
The trail rewards me not only with beauty but with a particular energy that I find hard to describe, except that it is pure and welcoming. Sometimes it is there when I turn a corner and the terrain changes, or when I pass one particular rock formation.
Moments like this prompt me to bow my head for a moment and pause. And listen to the precious silence.
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Joel Badzinski is a journalist who lives in La Crosse, Wis. He has hiked the Grand Canyon, Zion Narrows, Sedona, and all over the Midwest and knows there are many miles to go.
He plans to go trekking in Thailand, Laos and Cambodia and hike in to Machu Picchu in Peru in the coming months.
Find Joel on Twitter: @jbadzinski31