Every day, I hike the beautiful hills surrounding my home with my two dogs. My favorite trail winds down into a beautiful canyon, then turns to the left to follow a creek. I love this trail and to take it always feels like an indulgence to be savored. At the fork where we turn left, another trail goes to the right, down the hill. When we first moved here, my neighbor told me that this trail is lovely and recounted how her children love the parts where you have to wade through a small creek to continue on the trail. While I was intrigued, I immediately had visions of hiking the rest of the trail with wet feet and soggy socks. So for three years, I continued to turn left and ruled out the possibility of turning right.
On an unseasonably warm day last year, it occurred to me that I have a pair of large Gortex hiking boots, purchased for a one-time backpacking trip, guaranteed to keep your feet dry. So I strapped them on for the first time in years and hit the trail with my two dogs. When we got to the bottom of the canyon, I turned to the right for the first time. My younger dog, Sienna, bounded down the new trail with excitement. It only took a minute for her to find a puddle to splash in and something smelly to roll around in. My older dog Lucy, stayed at the top of the hill at the fork in the trail, looking at me suspiciously. Lucy is an anxious little creature and does not like having her routine changed. I tried all of my dog mom tricks to get her to come along, but eventually had to resort to leashing her up and forcing her down the hill against her will.
As I dragged Lucy along the trail, I could feel myself looking down on her for her resistance to change. But soon, I looked down and saw my giant Gortex boots. I humbly realized that while I was willing to finally try something new, it was only if I could do it on my terms, with a guarantee that I wouldn’t have to go outside my comfort zone. This, of course, is not how change works. You don’t get to control the outcomes or even the process, you just have to go along for the ride, either with an open heart or kicking and screaming.
Eventually, Lucy gave in and I could unleash her. She relaxed and began to enjoy sniffing new spots on the trail and eventually splashed around in the creek with Sienna. There were moments of profound beauty passing a lake that was still as glass and hints of spring creeping in everywhere. To my surprise, other thoughtful hikers had created little bridges and pathways to cross the creek, so my boots never even got wet. As we hiked up the steep hill to get home, the boots felt like a huge weight on my feet, reminding me with every step about my foolish efforts to stay in control. I hope that the next time I have the chance to try something new, I can show a little more courage and to be more open to what the path brings.
Leadership coach John C. Maxwell gave us the adage “Change is inevitable, growth is optional.” At different points in our lives, we all play the role of one character in my story: Sienna exuding enthusiasm and curiosity; Lucy digging her feet into the ground trying to resist; or me, pretending to be open-minded but trying to control all the circumstances. All of these reactions are normal and we can’t pretend to be someone we are not, but we can learn and grow from our reactions and experiences and try to meet change with more grace the next time around.
Since turning right for the first time last February, the creek trail has become my new favorite path. I’ve taken many friends and other dogs on this trail now to share its wonderful twists, turns and vistas. And every time that I cross the creek, with my feet still dry, I remember my giant boots with a laugh.
Julie Haydon is an artist and musician living the beautiful hills of Oakland, CA who creates works of beauty that brings people together. When she is not at work in the studio or making music, she is outside playing in the dirt or hiking with her husband and their two spoiled dogs.