by R. Shelley Zeber

I love to hike: On trails, in the woods, across meadows, along beaches, anywhere that Nature makes itself known. Over the years I’ve made an extra effort to hike on equinox days and on the summer solstice (and on the winter solstice, but only if I’m up for braving the cold!). I know some folks will think I’m a bit eccentric, but just in case the tales are true of Earth energy being stronger at those times of the year, I’m up for it!  

And, according to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, this supermoon, which was the third and final one for this year, was going to reach its peak on the same day as the spring equinox, which was March 20: “The last time the full Moon and the spring equinox coincided this closely (4 hours apart) was in March 2000, but the last time they occurred on the same date was March 20, 1981!”

Okay, so I’m a sucker for celestial events. Added to this was the fact that I recently survived Stage 3 cancer along with some intense chemo and radiation treatments. My body has become much weaker than it used to be.  I felt that the best remedy for me was to try to get back into hiking; after all, it gives you energy to do what you love, right?

So, in keeping with my tradition, I set out on Wednesday, March 20, to hike the Gorge Trail.  

As a nature lover, I have to say that the Gorge never fails to deliver, but after four years away I wasn’t sure what to expect; so many other places have changed dramatically in a short time.  This time, the sewage smell some hikers complained about in reviews was not noticeable to me. It had been present a long time ago, but I think the drainage system has been cleaned up some over the years — either that, or my sense of smell is fried from the chemo.

The path starts out past a steep hillside that looks like a graveyard of fallen trees — some decayed from natural causes, some uprooted in the sandy eroding soil, and a surprising number chopped down. But as I get my body moving at a good pace, I swear I can feel the surroundings giving me more energy.  I’m glad for the still-standing trees, many of them with roots entwined impressively around boulders. These mysterious stones and rock formations seem pregnant with spirits and untold history, enough to spark a stagnant imagination.

Further on, I encounter with delight narrow streams of water flowing down over thin shale rock that looks like little stair-steps, creating mini-waterfalls that bubble along in accompaniment to the immense rushing sound of the Cuyahoga River. As a massive wall of water thunders over the dam, the river permeates the air with a refreshing mist (negative ions, I wonder?), roiling around huge rocks as it descends through the narrow gorge. From some stronghold in the middle of the churning river, a sycamore rises startlingly, its trunk a thin white spike piercing the sky.  

Moving on, I come to an area of imposing hemlocks, their feathery evergreen branches a welcome contrast to the tans and browns of bare trees and the carpet of dry leaves. Their new offspring are scattered like tiny Christmas trees, springing up from little gardens of moss, leaf and stone. I spot a young beech, her branches as symmetric as a princess gown, still draped from autumn with light coppery leaves that rustle like paper. And then suddenly, the spring song of a cardinal — bright, cheerful — penetrates the wood, announcing his territory to all within range. My eyes search, and find him — a bright spot of red atop a tangle of vines, glowing like a Chinese lantern in this somewhat somber landscape.  Another cardinal chimes in across the river, and Spring is ON.

I reluctantly turn before I reach the last bend of the trail. (I seldom go to the end of this loop trail. Maybe it’s just too close to that intimidating State Road bridge arching across the Gorge.  Too close to civilization.) Anyway, as I return the way I came, I notice that two great blue herons are paired up and flying eastward, high above the river. It feels like a good omen. In the relatively calm water above the dam, ducks and geese are making their usual noise. Robins are busy in the grass. The small silhouette of a bird makes an undulating flight from one tree to another.

I have once again managed to hike this trail, and I feel like my hiking boots are happy.  They’ve served me well — no turned ankle on the rocks, no faltering on any mudslides or steep ravines. Strength has returned to my legs, my lungs, my heart, with every step.

I feel grateful. I honor this powerful day, with its energies of Earth and Moon. My heart blesses the woodland spirits and gives thanks to the Great Spirit — or, if you prefer, to a universe that seems willing to provide abundantly for us all.

R. Shelley Zeber is retired from office work but still hangs out at the computer, recording her impressions of nature, and is ready to hike again.

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