I spent a few days in the Hocking Hills last week at a friend’s cabin. While there, I hiked the rim of Conkle’s Hollow for the first time. I don’t know why I have not hiked it until now. I have made numerous trips to the Rock House. Hiked Old Man’s Cave. Explored Cedar Falls and lunched at the Inn, but I had never been to Conkle’s Hollow. It is an 87-acre Ohio nature preserve within Hocking Hills State Park. The lower trail is paved and wheel chair accessible, providing a three-fourths mile venture into the gorge where a delicate ecosystem supports several rare and endangered plant species. The walls of sandstone narrow and waterfalls cascade over mossed covered rocks. Hemlocks and hardwoods are rooted in the gorge, but tower above to form a canopy rich in autumn colors.
I arrived to a parking lot all but filled on a Wednesday afternoon and thought the trail would be crowded. It turns out most of the folks had been or were headed for the lower trail. I soon found out why. A person has to really want to hike the rim. To begin with there are about three sets of 30-step wooden stairs. Once done, I huffed and puffed a little further on an incline to arrive at the path. I only came across two other hikers. The first was coming toward me, which made me curious since it is a one-way trail. He asked if I was ok. “I’m good,” I puffed cheerfully. “Well I am not,” he responded. “Very soon this trail is going to take you very close to the edge of the gorge and I am afraid of heights. I can’t deal with a 200-foot drop.”
“Thanks for the warning,” I answered and kept going.
Several decades ago a friend bought me hiking boots and took me to Yosemite National Park. As we set foot on the Vernal Falls trail he explained that hiking was about commitment. First, you commit to doing the hike. Then with each step, especially along a ledge, you focus your eye where you want to step and commit to planting your foot there. It is especially helpful if you want to cross a stream on rocks. As I think of this, I remember the story of Jesus walking on water and Peter getting out of the boat to go meet him. Peter did fine walking on water until he became fearful. Then he sunk.
At Conkle’s Hollow, I felt gratitude for my dear old friend, now departed, who taught me the basics of hiking and walked me to beautiful vistas only found along a trail. Interesting how being out in nature causes one to reflect and remember other times, people and places. I was also reminded of the family adventures I had with my young children even longer ago at our church camp, Geneva Hills, here in Hocking County. Of course, my thoughts turned to how blessed I was to be alive now and healthy enough to be doing this hike in the first place.
I moved aside for the second hiker, another young man, who passed me with a fluid, easy pace. I couldn’t resist asking if he hiked the rim regularly. He turned around, smiled and said it was his first time and his third hike of the day. “Wow,” I responded. “You are quite a hiker!” He explained that when he has a day off, he tries to make the most of it. After he finished the rim, he was heading back to Columbus.
I kept a steady pace on the hike. There were moments when the silence and magnitude of the gorge called me to stop and breath in its beauty and wonder. Raised tree roots crossed the hiker-worn path and required me to focus with each step. Two noisy squirrels scurried through the dried leaves of chestnut oaks between the Virginia scrub pines. Four horsemen traveling the ridge a few feet above me nodded as we quietly agreed it was a great day to be out in the woods.
Making the most of any day. That is an art. The art of living well is making the most of each day. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not.” The best we can ask for is to see the beauty in moments of each day and to nod quietly to each other as we agree it’s a great day to be on the trail.
The Rev. Patricia Stout is parish associate at First Presbyterian Church and a substitute teacher in the Delaware City School District.