Photo by lucas Favre on Unsplash

A brief treatise on walking a centered life. Silly, but indulge me. It’s a Sunday.

Every morning here in Eugene, I am usually heading up the Spencer Butte trail by 6 am (not today, I’m taking a breather until the very late hour of 8 am).

It’s about a mile, nice rise, lovely view. Great exercise if you push. Beyond beautiful.

I use a pair of Black Diamond uber lightweight carbon hiking poles. Had them since I did Kilimanjaro in 2013. The older I get, the more injuries I heap on myself, the more grateful I am to have them.

Oh hell, at this age I’m glad to be alive and upright. At least sort of. Most days. Some days.

This past week I noticed something that I’d never seen. I had stopped to wrap my sweater around my waist. As I picked up my poles, which I have used for seven long years, I saw a small white R on one of the loops.

Really? There’s a right and a left?

It’s taken me this long to notice this?

Yep. Of course, before I got specialized glacier glasses, I couldn’t see worth a damn on the mountain, and that small white notation would be a blur. Always has been a blur. Bears are a blur too, but that’s because I’m running like a mother fucker. But I digress.


Like politics.

I checked out the handles. Sure enough, the placement of the handles does favor left and right.

I thought about that as I descended, the gentle tic tic tic of the poles providing the metronome to my speed-walking.

Um, my speed stumbling.

I am a political centrist, like a great many Americans. I find the extreme right AND the extreme left’s shrieking offensive, not useful, and polarizing.

Yet every so often I will hear something that I need to hear, but it keeps me in the middle. Like my poles. Well, most days. Okay, okay, for a few seconds, at least, until I lurch one way or the other to dodge the bears.

I refuse to buy into any of the extreme viewpoints, in the same way that if I push too hard into the ground on either side, that will cause me to do a face plant. Okay, okay, more face plants than usual. But I get up fast, because, bears.

Like extreme politics. My poles serve to keep me balanced. They are useful, helpful, but I don’t count on them. I can hike without, but the occasional support or push helps me focus on keeping me upright and in the middle.

A middle which is slightly larger due to quarantine, and which makes dodging bears slightly more adventurous.

If I lean way too heavily, I will break the pole, and over I go. Either way. I have to trust the fundamental balance I already have built inside me- not the poles. The poles’ only role, I repeat, their only role, is to provide slight balance, a course correction, so that I don’t decorate the rocks with my grey matter.

If the bears don’t do that for me, that is.

In politics, I acknowledge the role and periodic importance of extreme viewpoints. I just can’t lean into them any more than my light, thin poles can support my full weight. Extreme views don’t support the full weight of proof either, whether they are conservative or liberal. Extremists are very good at decorating US with toxic grey matter.

So are bears, if they fight over my carcass.

I appreciate having the poles, but I still have to do all the hard work of walking. In politics, what that means is that I still need to do my own reading, my own research, thinking, debating, discussing. In the same way that my poles can’t do my hiking for my legs, the polarized viewpoints can’t do my thinking for me. Thinking is hard work, like hiking. Thinking critically, asking hard questions, challenging both my and the speaker’s POVs are also hard work. Those things build excellent mental muscles. Too many of us have allowed ours to get awfully flabby as the polarized views do our speaking for us.

Speaking of flab, being flabby makes it damned hard to dodge a bear, but I think I said that already.

Having done my fair share of seriously bad faceplants on rocky trails, I am no fan of falling. However, the poles don’t stop me- my balance and the strength of my legs do that. One quick tap of a pole if I crank an ankle on a loose rock can get me back upright.

Keeping me centered. Did I say this was brief? Bears can run really, really fast. Uphill. Not at 67 I can’t.

Same with a key thought from either side. The lie of extreme views is that there is just enough truth for the whole message to sound true in full. Nope. What we get to do is exercise the mental muscles to sort out the sober truth from the embellishments.

Sort of like how the bears will separate the liver from the guts. Embellishments.

Pretty heavy for a morning hike, huh?

Bear with me.

Sorry. It’s early.

Photo by Geoff Brooks on Unsplash