Priorities

My kids were safe and happy with a caregiver that morning. I was ready to tackle an epic To Do list, a nice long list of stuff I’d been meaning to get done that was starting to annoy me. But within my first 20 steps on the trail, it became clear that I wasn’t going to do any of them, after all.  My body relaxed into the hike before my mind did, that kind of muscle memory that told my legs to step around the rocky parts of the trail and my lungs to inhale that sweet mountain air. Oh yes, my body seemed to say. I remember this. I love this.

It wasn’t supposed to be a big hike, really. My intention was simply to take a stroll with Cholula. That morning, I’d noticed that her face was getting white and she wasn’t moving as quickly as she used to. The mama guilt I’ve perfected with my children transferred onto my dog, so I added “give Chewy love” to my list. It was something to cross off and then I’d move on to the next thing.  As soon as we started moving, the pleasure I immediately felt made me try to remember the last adventure Cholula and I had shared. I couldn’t think of anything recent. So I took another deep breath, followed that wagging tail, and began to look around.

The first thing I noticed wasn’t with my eyes. Unseen birds were providing a joyful soundtrack to our hike; my feet kept the beat. Cholula darted back and forth across the path, her sniffing nose in overdrive. As always, her happiness was contagious. I started counting wildflowers- there’s a sweet pea, and is that a Utah daisy? I hummed an old tune I remembered from Girl Scouts. “I love the mountains. I love the rolling hills. I love the daisies. I love the daffodils…” I couldn’t get over all of the shades of green on the hillsides. After the longest winter in memory (which included snowstorms in May, for crying out loud), the ground had opened up in vibrant color. Every now and then, I’d pull a sprig of fresh sage from the trailside and roll it around in my hand by my nose, smelling that invigorating high desert aroma.  I noticed a ladybug clinging to a tiny rock and hoped for good luck. I stopped to examine a nest of caterpillars tucked into some scrub oak. I wandered through various crossroads in the trail, which was one I wasn’t familiar with. Man, do I love exploring a new trail. I’d forgotten.

Having a baby in the beginning of December in a huge snow year meant a LOT of time indoors over the winter. There weren’t the stroller walks or early spring hikes with Morrison that I enjoyed when Oden was born in March a few years ago. This was the first real hike of the season for me, and I wound higher and higher up the hill, despite the ominous thunderheads building over town. Where does this leg of the trail go? Let’s just go up around the bend. Look at those patches of snow still on the ski runs! Every few minutes, I’d whistle for Chewy, who’d have her nose deep in a vole’s hole or was chasing an imaginary mouse through the brush. Once, I had to scold what looked to be an old rabbit leg out of her mouth. Dogs are gross. But whatever, that was her journey- her version of a fabulous hike. I paused to take a photo or two and picked a fuzzy dandelion, making a secret wish before I blew it away into the breeze.

With thunder rumbles growing noticeably louder, I realized suddenly that the dark clouds had moved from over town toward me. Mountain storms come in fast! What happened to all of those singing birds? A few bikers sped past, all heading down toward safety from what now seemed to be an unavoidable summer storm. At first, I thought, “What’s a little rain?” But when a significant lightning flash gave me a start, I hooted another whistle for the dog and did an about-face.  A huge clap of thunder herded Cholula down trail faster than I ever could and I vaguely wondered if I was in danger. I scanned my memory for any stories about hikers being struck by lightning in Park City and picked up my pace. I texted John to let him know where I was and followed Cholula’s still-wagging tail back the way we’d come. There’s nothing like an unintentional jog to avoid a lightning strike on an exposed mountain trail to make you feel alive! As we neared the trailhead, I noticed the last car besides my own was pulling away from the parking lot. As she often does, Cholula slowed down when she realized our fun was about to end, sniffing every blade of grass and walking with her head low toward me. I finally lured her with a surprise dog treat that someone had dropped from their car, and she hopped into the Subaru just as the first rain drops hit my windshield.

My heart still beating fast, I glanced back at Cholula. She was wedged in between the two filthy car seats, panting with her tongue out. Was that a smile? I turned on the car and spied my list of things I’d intended to do on the passenger seat, scribbled on the back of an envelope. I laughed. Well, I might have only crossed one thing off…but that list would still be there tomorrow. Our adventure would have only happened that day. I turned up the radio and pointed the Subaru toward home, content that for once, I’d had my priorities straight.

One year ago: We were about to embark on a family trip to Carlsbad, California!

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