Feeding My Soul with a Trail

Fall color on a tree at the trails at Walnut Creek park in Austin.
Fall on the Walnut Creek trails. Photo Credit: Leah Nyfeler

There isn’t much fall in Central Texas, but the flame leaf sumac smoldered bronze, rust, and gold against the green of Ashe junipers and wayward ligustrum.

That November morning wasn’t even cold. More like muggy with a faint patina of mist. There hadn’t been any real rain but as we’d stopped to assess the fork in the trail, I could feel the light pitter pat of the not quite full-fledged drops on my skin.

We’d come from the old creek crossing, the root drop. Though the banks were muddy, the rocks were dry; with little water in the bed, striding across the trickle was easy.  We both thought that, yes, a wider band of shelf rock bordered the graveled bottom, as though in the time since we’d last clambered down its banks (had it been a year? more?), current had shoved aside dirt to carve out and expose a little more space. The creek just hadn’t caught up yet.

My feet were still dry, but another crossing waited. Somewhere. My friend and I were pulling up past muscle memory and landmark-based internal mapping and attempting to create a new overlay. Beth pointed out segments of known space were divided by changed spaces. Not only were old routes disjointed, but the familiar terrain had sometimes been reshaped. Disconcertingly, feet and wheels had tamped and rutted new trails, while construction and concrete had obliterated established paths. That landscape stretching out before us was a jumbled twist of kind of, sort of, almost those same old miles.

Even before all the changes, even without that weird mix of known and unknown,  Walnut Creek’s trails were a tangle. I’d spent hours and hours–years–time on my feet–working to learn the combinations of turns, drops, crossings, and switchbacks. Now…did I know where we were, or was this portion of trail simply similar to something I thought I remembered?

Gold leaves on a flame leaf sumac tree at Walnut Creek Park in Austin.
Fall sumac leaves against a gray sky at Walnut Creek Park. Photo Credit: Leah Nyfeler

There’s a certain comfort from traveling a trail and popping out exactly where you envisioned you would. Tumblers in the soul click into place; all’s right with the world. It’s like snapping a puzzle piece in place with a satisfied tap, tap, tap. A new bridge had sent us wandering but that inner compass corrected, and I laughed when, as we doubled back yet again, I commented, “Thank goodness you’re someone who doesn’t mind not knowing where she is.” Because there are those who mistrust uncertainty and then those who welcome adventure. My friend Beth welcomes an adventure.

At the main creek crossing, splashing through the flowing water to skirt slippery rocks surrounded by Sunday morning people and wayward dogs was so much better than cautiously keeping dry. The sun worked just a little harder; we both had places to be, things to do; our morning exploration ended at the edge of the woods. Next time, we’d add another piece to the map we were slowly redrawing.

At home, I balanced by the door mat to slip off those muddy trail shoes. Peeling off wet, clinging socks, that familiar whiff of dirty shoe and mucky creek made me smile. As I dropped the socks, I thought, This makes me happy.

It had been too long since I’d left trail shoes by the door to dry.

A pair of trail shoes with socks near a plant by the front door.



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Published by Leah Nyfeler

I'm a writer, editor, runner, and adventurer who is always looking for the next new story, exciting adventure, and good meal/book/movie. My focus is on helping people find their best, healthiest self through sharing what I know and how I've come to learn it. In addition to my blog "Enjoying the Journey: Observations on the Fit Life" at www.leahruns100.com, my articles have appeared in a variety of print and online magazines. You can hear me as part of the 2015 Austin cast of Listen To Your Mother.

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