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I think a successful hike is anything that doesn’t end with me lying in a basket swinging from ropes as I look up at the rescue helicopter. It’s just not my sport. I have no sense of direction and I trip on tree roots regularly.

The pandemic has inspired me to get out there however. Using my phone’s trail app, I recently planned a few very easy, very short hikes. (No need to get crazy about this, and there has to be time for ice cream afterwards.) My husband John has a good sense of adventure and direction and is useful in these situations. If I went alone I’d end up on the evening news.

We’re focusing on waterfalls in New England and so far have visited three in Western Massachusetts: Bash Bish Falls in Mount Washington; Doane’s Falls in Royalston and Bear’s Den Falls in New Salem. All three are lovely waterfalls that I’d never heard of despite having lived in Massachusetts my entire life. (I didn’t even know there was a Massachusetts town called Mount Washington.)

Even an easy hike can be challenging for the non-hiker. Managing uneven terrain requires balance. Turns out I’m balance challenged. To address this issue, I packed a walking stick for our second outing, and forgot it in the car. By our third hike I remembered the stick (an old ski pole), and it did help. The more serious hikers we passed had two walking sticks which seems like an even better idea.

Photographing while hiking adds a level of difficulty. An expensive camera hanging from your neck is distracting, particularly as it swings around bouncing off trees and rocks. (All because you decided your phone wasn’t enough.)

Safety tip: When you stop to take a photo, don’t put your walking stick down at the top of a rocky ledge. When it starts to slide off the ledge you might forget where you are, lunge after it, and lose your balance 20 feet above several large boulders. (I’m not saying this happened to me, but I’m thinking it could happen to anyone.) The best response to this scenario might be to scratch and claw the ground and then maybe hug a tree to keep yourself from falling off the ledge, while your spouse looks up in horror from below.

Massachusetts is known for ticks, so we’ve been careful to stay on marked, well-cut trails. Despite that, we’ve already experienced one tick attack after just these few hikes. (Medical privacy laws prevent me from disclosing exactly where the tick was found.) Must be more careful.

During the Doane’s Falls outing, our only bird sighting happened near the bank of a lake. A tiny creature with interesting stripes hopped about in a busy way, looking for insects on an old log. With our novice birdwatching skills immediately on high alert, John and I froze, fascinated. We remained in our wildlife expert/zombie poses for several minutes, partially hidden by trees, not making a sound, just watching, standing shoulder to shoulder, barely blinking.

Eventually we noticed two kayakers directly in front of us, a few feet off shore. John and I smiled and mentioned the bird. The kayakers returned a nervous hello, increased their pace and paddled away.

The little bird with stripes also moved on.

As I stare at the waterfall, thinking about life and the peanut butter and jelly sandwich waiting for me in the car, John asks, “How would you get back if I wasn’t here?”

I vaguely point at a hill behind me, “Um, that way?”

“Keep the river on your right,” he says.

Despite my worries about rocks, tree roots, ticks and the state of the world, our simple hikes have reminded me that there’s nothing quite like a stroll in the forest to soothe the soul—nothing except the sound of rushing water.

—Patricia Czepiel Hayes / April 2021

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