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Pathways

The dirt path in front of me winds slowly like a snake, up and up, through tall field grasses and fading wildflowers toward the summit of Green Mountain. Scents of aromatic sage and clover rise in the morning air, and small, unidentified animals skitter nervously in the brush on either side of me. Green Mountain is a misnomer for this treeless hill nestled in the foothills west of Denver. Not only is it not a mountain, it is anything but green, except for two seconds in the spring when it turns a brilliant lizard viridian before drying up and returning to its usual burnt prairie hue.

As I hike Green Mountain on the morning of my thirty-seventh birthday, I think about the path in front of me, both on this hill and in my life. For well over a year, I have been on a mission to figure out what to do with the rest of my life, to determine my "right livelihood." No longer content to do what I've always done, I have pushed aside all familiar and easy solutions. It has been unsettling, even painful at times. But, at the risk of sounding hopelessly "airy-fairy," something is urging, no demanding that I create a life with meaning.

Niggling thoughts float underneath: Yeah, yeah, that's what everybody says, but how practical is it? You quit that well-paying job almost two years ago to begin this search, and look where you are now -- climbing a hill on a Monday morning with no prospects in sight.

Give it a rest, says my new, positive self.

After walking my usual route for a few moments, I come to the fork where I normally go right. It's a nice traversing trail with a few steep inclines to get my heart pumping. The trail to the left, on the other hand, goes almost straight into the sky. My birthday gift to myself this morning seems to be an unexpected streak of optimism. Today I take this path.

I begin to climb. Placing one hiking boot in front of the other, I struggle at first, over rocks and ruts, yucca spears and ant hills. When my breathing quickens, I slow down a little. Methodically, I keep a rhythm, left, right, left, right. I am so absorbed I don't realize how far I've come until I glance down and see the fork is now way beneath me. This isn't so bad, I think.

Climbing this rocky trail becomes a stark metaphor. Somewhere along the way I realize that whatever path I choose will be fine. There may be rough spots or unexpected surprises, but I can handle it. And, although I've heard many times that it is the process—the act of following the path—that is most important, now it sinks in. Fulfillment as a completed goal is as much of a misnomer as "mountain" is for this big hill. I remember graduating, getting married, hitting my numbers as a sales person, getting published for the first time. As joyous as these achievements were, their true purpose seemed to be to spawn new challenges and endeavors.

I decide that it's okay if I don't know where my self-imposed changes are leading. Knowing the outcome isn't necessary to be able to learn and grow and enjoy the journey. A new picture of life forms in my mind—a never-ending series of cycles, spiraling onward and outward like some huge, transcendental Slinky.

And so I find a little peace on Green Mountain, on the morning of my thirty-seventh birthday. My calves and hamstrings are straining and I detect small blisters forming underneath the heels of my hiking boots. Just as I reach what looks like the top of the hill, sweating and panting and relieved, a new stretch of path looms ahead. I sit and rest awhile, gazing out at the beautifully vast and humbling Colorado mountains. Then, I pull tattered Band-aids from my pack, apply them to my blisters, and begin to climb again.



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